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Senior Friendly Computing Series: 5 Barriers to Senior Internet Use

For many Seniors and their loved ones, Quality of Life is the “bottom-line” objective. We propose that the internet is intimately involved in accomplishing and maintaining that goal. Seniors use computer and internet technologies at relatively low rates. Unique personal barriers make adopting technologies challenging.

This is the third article in the “Senior Friendly Computing” series. Its focus is on the 5 Barriers to Senior Internet Use: Physical, Mental, Psychological, Technical and Social.

1) Physical influences

Age related wear and tear or the influence of disease processes result in general slowing of nearly all physical functions. US Census reports detail 59% of the 65+ group and 35% of the 80+ group are internet users while greater than 50% of the 65+ population have disabilities, handicaps or chronic illnesses limiting participation in the Information Age. Sensory functions are frequently compromised. Those relevant sensory functions include: vision (ie. Macular Degeneration), hearing (progressive deafness), and touch. Motor deficits involve posture requirements and physical access to the computer (Arthritis, Osteoporosis, degenerative processes, and spinal deformities).

2) Mental influences

Cognitive functions include memory, language, thinking, socialization, and emotions. There are several designations for varying levels of the “Senior moment”. Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Age Related Cognitive Decline (ARCD) are examples. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular Dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common cause.” Other common causes include Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, HIV, MS, etc. Chronic illnesses may present with reversible cognitive compromise like Diabetes, Thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies. Wide variation in cognitive function may compromise memory, information processing, understanding and following instructions, also task completion.

3) Psychological influences

Here are several psychological reasons: a) Lack of understanding or knowledge about the uses and the value of the internet b) The perception of insurmountable difficulty and interface complexity c) Illiteracy and a steep learning curve d) Fear and apprehension about failure, change, abuse, reputation damage, security violations, and loss of autonomy e) Common Senior concerns are: I’m too old to learn, I’m unfamiliar with the hardware and software, I’ve no contact with other users, and only kids use the internet so I avoid social media f) Some Seniors have general discomfort with all digital technologies (computers, GPS, phones, readers, blue-tooth, etc.) g) Unclear motive/benefit: no reason for use, no social motive, no relevance, lack of measurable returns, delayed or prolonged period to benefit h) General resistance to: all new technologies, intrusive/invasive monitoring, required learning and adaptation i) Eccentricities.

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