Electronic access for older people

At the upper end of the age spectrum, there are the same problems of access caused by financial limitations, but these are compounded by the fact that many older people have grown up without ever having used computers. Therefore they are intimidated by them and lack the confidence to learn. They may additionally be concerned about the costs, and in many cases are very susceptible to electronic crime and failure to distinguish between genuine and spam-type activities of people who contact them. They may be equally susceptible to exploitation by people that they meet, but the written words of an email can seem more deceptive, and there is no visual contact to sense if the person is acting honestly or not. Hence caution in using electronic communication by the elderly is not unreasonable. Indeed, it is essential.

It is misleading to assume that the lack of Internet access is confined to the elderly. Data from the UK in 2014 suggest that one in five adults have never used the Internet. One in four do not have a computer at home, and, whilst for those under 25, Internet usage is well over 90 per cent, for those over 65 the number drops to around 40 per cent. The first guess would be that successive generations will be more computer and electronic literate, so the 40 per cent number will increase. I assume this is partly true, but the technologies are advancing faster than people learn and age, so it is not impossible that we are heading for even greater isolation of the poor and elderly driven by the new developments.

A second difficulty is that people are living to ages where their mental faculties are impaired, so computer usage becomes far too challenging for many. A sobering thought is that within both the UK and the USA, the number of physically impaired people, just with the mental distress of Alzheimer’s, is some 5 million in each country. For the UK, that is nearly one in ten people and something that impacts virtually every single family. With extended life expectancy, the net effects of difficulties and care are rising.

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