Changes Which Will Impact The Ability Of Older Adults To Maintain Social Networks Of Support.

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This report released by the London School of Economics and Political Science looks at the impact of the internet on older people in coming decades.

The LSE report flags several major challenges to engage older people in an increasingly digitised world, and also highlights the pros and cons of an ageing society using the internet.
 
The report looks at how changes in society and technology over the next 10 and 25 years will help or hinder older people in maintaining social networks.
 
Physical and cognitive difficulties are some of the major barriers faced by older people using the internet, including problems with arthritis, tremors, memory loss and deteriorating eyesight.
 
 
Key Points:
 
Evidence demonstrates that physical and cognitive accessibility of several ICT devices and services remain barriers to use for many older adults. But there is an evidence gap in relation to older adults’ acceptance of – and access to – ‘newer’ touchscreen devices such as tablet computers and smartphones. Between 2010 and 2013, the proportion of older adults with internet skills grew, and more people aged 65 to 74 reported improved internet skills over the same period. However, there is evidence of a cohort effect around ICT-related skills: considerably fewer older adults have internet skills compared to younger adults. The population of older adults is highly heterogeneous, but most people with these skills have acquired them on their own, or with the help of family members and friends.
 
ICT content is mostly directed at younger people. Older adults commonly express ambivalence about ICT and are reluctant to allow it to encroach too much into their daily lives. Many older  adults believe the internet to be a threat to their privacy. Compared to the general adult population, older adults are less likely to engage with social media. ICT has the potential both to help and to harm social networking: it can help alleviate feelings of loneliness by bridging geographical distance from family members and friends, but it could also lead to the breakdown of traditional forms of social interaction.
 
Older adults benefit from using ICT applications such as email and Skype to remain in contact with their family members and friends. However, ICT is often used to reinforce existing social contacts, rather than to build new ones. The effects on quality of life are mixed. Some studies show how individuals gain a sense of accomplishment and improved self-esteem from using ICT, while other studies show little or no improvement on, for example, measures of mental well-being. Older adults who use ICT appear to experience positive impacts on their level of
participation in volunteer, social, religious and political activities, clubs and organisations.
 
Incorporating ICT into the delivery of health and social care services is one strategy being explored in order to address the challenge of growing needs for care while (public) resources
remain constrained. There is a lot of anticipation that ICT-based services such as telecare and telehealth will develop to provide timely, personalised services to individuals, while providing reassurance to family members and carers and also remaining socially affordable. Robust evidence to date does not support that anticipation.
 
Many older adults receive ICT equipment or service subscriptions from family members, particularly from their adult children. Perceptions of the affordability of ICT appear to be rooted in long-established spending patterns and consumer habits, and many older adults – regardless of income – perceive ICT to be a luxury. Many express or reveal a reluctance to spend money
on items that need continual updates and maintenance. Perceptions of affordability affect perceptions of the benefits of ICT.
 
The market-led approach to the roll-out of superfast broadband networks has led to geographical disparities in access to high-speed internet. Areas of the UK where over 15% of the local
population have internet connections of 2 Mbit/s or less are also areas with above-average proportions of older adults in the population. Poor access to adequate broadband can exclude older adults from a number of services, including telecare and telehealth, which require reliable internet connections. Poor connectivity to the internet may also contribute to social isolation, which is a particular risk when local services, such as public transport and ‘low-level’ social care, are being cut. Only about 25% of registered care homes in the UK provide internet access to residents.
 
Conclusions:
 
The evidence shows that the impact of digital technology and the internet on older people is mixed, with some users gaining a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, while other studies
report little or no improvement in wellbeing. 
 
The authors found that digital technology has the potential to both harm and help social networking. It can lead to a breakdown in traditional forms of social interaction but also allow older people to maintain contact with distant friends and relatives through email and Skype, alleviating loneliness.
 
Action from the public sector and charitable organisations is needed to ensure that ICT access is not denied to older people on the grounds of cost, or due to physical, sensory or cognitive
decline, the authors argue.
 
Older adults will increasingly use ICT when it is helpful to them, whether for various functions important in their daily lives (including shopping, banking, playing games and personal care functions), and to maintain or expand their social networks. But for this to happen, current and future devices and services must be designed to be accessible and affordable to them, and not to be sources of anxiety. There will always be a generational gap in capabilities and preferences, and a generational bias in the targeting of major innovations in the ICT market, and those gaps could materially and socially disadvantage some segments of the older population. Public action will be needed to identify which older adults use ICT to maintain or expand their social networks and which find themselves increasingly isolated, and then to respond appropriately.
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