Seniors and the Internet
Think about Seniors in Cyberspace…what comes into your mind? Perhaps the words, yeah, right? If so, you are not alone. Many people, including the elderly themselves, believe that seniors are technophobics, defined as those who can’t even program their VCRs, much less use a computer or even begin to understand how to navigate the World Wide Web.
However, times are changing. More and more elderly people are using the Internet. In fact, they are the fastest growing Internet user group (Sorenson 1997). There are many different reasons for the rapid expansion of this group, as I will discuss later in this paper. But one that seemed to be extremely prevalent was to keep in touch with their grandchildren and to learn the same things their grandchildren were learning about in regard to computers and the Internet.
Computer companies are beginning to realize that the elderly population is a growing market. However, the elderly themselves realized they needed more help learning and understanding the Internet long before the computer companies did, and they have created hundreds of sites to aide in that process, some of which I will discuss later.
Facts and Figures
A survey done by SeniorNet, a national nonprofit organization, finds that overall computer ownership among adults aged 55 to 75 is 30%. In July of 1994 the percentage was 21. This means that there has been a dramatic increase of 43% in just 16 months. SeniorNet also estimates that computer use among the elderly has grown by 15% each year since 1990 (Adler,
in and promote themselves as modern. It seems that most seniors start using the Internet because their grandchildren are learning it and they feel left out or because their grandchildren
These figures show that seniors are not as technophobic as we all have assumed and been led to believe. The SeniorNet suspects that the reason seniors have been stigmatized as
use the Internet.
Perhaps one of the turning points for seniors to overcome their fear of technology, was the improvement of computers. Computers are much more user-friendly now. Netscape and
Microsoft browsers offer simple point and click overlays for the Internet, making it extremely easy to surf the Web. Most service providers offer simple windows, bars and pull down
disabilities that seniors may experience. There has been a study done that also looks at possible health benefits that occur with Internet usage for senior citizens. This study was noted in
Forbes Magazine and it showed the health benefits that occur with Internet use. Psychologist Jasmin McConatha found that after 6 months on-line, the senior groups mean score rose
more user-friendly computer and computer equipment companies make, the more likely seniors will use computers and the Internet.
Sites for Seniors
also holds national conferences and conducts research on the uses of technology by older adults. Many computer related companies fund SeniorNet, proving that the senior population is
expanding because computer companies would not spend money on a population that did not use their products.
only a few of the hundreds of sites geared toward seniors. They offer information on how to use their computers and the Internet more effectively along with general information, links
to sites about health, money and retirement, and chat rooms or message boards. Chat rooms are one of the most used facilities by seniors on the net. Widow.net is especially geared to
fine, but here seniors are free to put how they actually are feeling. These messages range from health and mental complaints to just keeping the many friends they have met on the net
up-to-date without having to email each individual.
called Seniors. The age mix in this room averages from 50 to 75. However, I have seen younger and older and all are accepted the same…very cautiously. Until the regulars spend quite
a bit of time noticing your name in the room, will they truly chat with you. The seniors that finally chatted with me explained that they have heard so many negatives about chat rooms
that they are alert and careful to newcomers. However, once they do accept you, they will greet you with warmth and enthusiasm.
would answer all of my questions, 6 were retired, 6 were female, and the range of how long they had been using the Internet ranged from 1 week to 3 years. The ones that were not
retired yet had been accessing the Internet the longest.
rooms and email. All of them mentioned that it was so much easier and cheaper to email family and friends than it was to call them.
friends to expand their social life. Many of the older seniors told me that a lot of their friends had died and that this was a chance to socialize and meet new friends. When I asked them if
these new friends were approximately the same age as they are, the cautious ones who had refused to answer other questions, answered yes, while the other 10 who had answered all
my questions said that most were but they were open to other age groups as well. Each told me that they had made good friends that they are anxious to speak with each day. They
related to me that there were people that they could chat with, about their health and family and issues such as Social Security, that understood why there was a need to speak of these
The seniors also told me that they had found information about health issues that were explained to them in a way that they could understand. They knew that if they could not get an
answer from their doctor, or if they had questions once they got home, they could get on-line and look it up. They feel that the Internet has given them a chance to educate themselves.
seniors (Rigdon,1994). Even in treatment of ailments such as arthritis, hours online creating an active mind may reduce the amount of pain medication needed (Noer, 1995). It has been
said that seniors who regularly access the Internet will score higher on measures of health and well being than those who do not use the Internet. Seniors and Internet usage will have
seniors and even better technology to allow even the most disabled seniors to access the Internet communities.
The more benefits for seniors health and well being that are identified to be attributed by Internet usage, the more the senior online population will grow. The changes that could possibly
Adler, R.P. (1996). Older adults and computers: Report of a national
survey SeniorNet [online], Available
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Noer,M. (1995, September). Senior cybernauts. Forbes magazine. 156
Odlin. (1997). Too old for Computers [online], Available
Wrixon, Ann. (1997). SeniorNet.com. [online], Available