Thanks to the power of digital communication, older adults have more lifestyle choices than ever. Today, senior citizens can see a doctor, attend an exercise class, or watch their favorite movie from childhood — all without leaving their homes. However, to take advantage of these fantastic resources, seniors need access to the internet.
In fact, internet for senior citizens is so important that some experts have called it one of the most critical determinants of health outcomes for older adults. Why is internet access important for seniors — and how can caregivers ensure that older loved ones can access the tech that improves their lives?
The term “digital divide” refers to the opportunity gap between people with internet access and people without it. You’ll often hear the term used when discussing rural American communities with limited internet access, but the term can apply to any population that disproportionately lacks broadband connections.
Shockingly, studies have found that as many as 42 percent of senior citizens don’t have broadband internet access at home. The reasons for this vary, but can include:
- Lack of digital literacy or experience with the internet
- Living in a rural area with poor internet access
- Fixed incomes that make it challenging to afford internet service and digital devices
- Residence in assisted living facilities without sufficient internet access
- Insufficient support in installing and setting up internet service
Experts increasingly agree that digital inclusion is a social determinant of health, and that seniors with internet access have better health outcomes than those without. The US Department of Health even calls digital access a “super determinant” for seniors’ health that stands alongside education, medical care, and other traditionally recognized factors.
Without internet access, seniors can struggle with:
- Lack of access to medical care, including appointment scheduling and telemedicine
- Difficulty accessing services, including Social Security, Medicare, and pension plans
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Boredom and lack of entertaining activities
- Lack of resources for an active approach to health and lifestyle
On the other hand, when seniors have the digital access they need, it opens up all kinds of potential benefits.
Seniors often have higher needs when it comes to medical care, but the constant back-and-forth travel of frequent doctor visits can cause a lot of stress for both patients and caregivers. The rapidly expanding field of telemedicine provides a better way forward by providing seniors with remote doctor visits from the comfort of their homes. It can also allow a patient to see a doctor on short notice, reducing the long wait times often associated with receiving medical care.
Variety and stimulation are two lifestyle factors that have been shown to play a potentially key role in reducing seniors’ dementia risk. Today, seniors have a wealth of options for keeping their minds and bodies engaged. Games and puzzles are a great option, including crosswords, sudoku, video games, and more. In addition, nearly every kind of learning is available in an online class these days, from college courses to yoga and fitness — because there’s no wrong age to learn something new.
Loneliness is devastating to the health of senior citizens, and social interaction is the most powerful medicine available. Fortunately, digital communication provides incredible opportunities for spending time with family and friends, even when in-person visitation isn’t possible. Just a quick ten-minute video chat with siblings, kids or grandkids can make someone’s day and provide a boost to their well-being. Internet access also helps keep seniors connected with the community by giving them access to event listings in their area.
The internet is packed with useful health information, from meal plans to exercise routines to chronic illness support communities. Independent access to this health information can be tremendously important and empowering for senior citizens — another way that the internet opens many important doors for seniors. Note, however, that it’s important to be sure that your loved ones have the digital literacy to tell fact from fiction when accessing online health information.
Most people today do at least some online shopping, but it’s especially important for seniors, who benefit from having necessities like groceries and medical supplies delivered to their homes. Online shopping helps avoid unnecessary trips out of the house and can help seniors remain independent even after they reduce or eliminate driving from their lives.
Many of today’s best assistive technologies for seniors rely on internet access. Voice assistants like Alexa, smart home technologies, and even some medical alert devices require Wi-Fi connections. These technologies can be a big lifestyle upgrade for many seniors, and prioritizing internet service will help ensure that loved ones can access them.
With internet access playing such a major role in senior citizens’ lives, what are the options for seniors who need broadband access? These are some of the most common options that seniors and caregivers should know about:
- Care Home Internet: Usually, independent or assisted living facilities provide Wi-Fi networks for their residents. The quality of these networks varies, but the cost is typically included in the facility’s service package. If you’re unsure whether the facility’s Wi-Fi meets your needs, an internet speed test is a good place to start.
- Internet for Seniors: Some ISPs offer special internet plans for senior citizens, often with affordable rates designed to work for people on fixed incomes. Contact the ISPs in your area and ask if they have options for seniors.
- Fiber Optic Internet: In areas with fiber optic infrastructure, senior citizens can take advantage of the blazing speeds and improved reliability that fiber internet offers.
- Mobile Hotspots: Most smartphones can create mobile hotspots to turn their cellular service into a Wi-Fi network that other devices can connect to. Hotspots typically aren’t a long-term solution, but they can provide internet access when it’s most important.
Whichever connectivity options you choose, remember that internet service isn’t just a convenience. It’s often genuinely critical for the well-being of your loved ones, so it’s worth prioritizing internet access for the senior citizens in your life.