As technology advances ever so rapidly, it is important to know the best technology to take advantage of. Not all technologies are relevant to all people. In older age, individuals might pay more attention to their health; they might look forward to retirement, and with extra free time, they might think more about volunteering.
Today, the Internet is relied on more and more as a provider of health-related information and services. On websites, it is possible to apply for health insurance, review doctors, track claims, research wellness activities, buy medicine, and more. The number of apps to support health and fitness grow as does the popularity of health-related, serious games. These new technologies allow people to take a more active, participatory role in their own health, which is contrary to the traditional idea of the doctor as all-knowing- a practice that many older people are familiar with (Campbell and Nolfi, 2005). Today, older people can be more proactive and in control of their health; they can research health matters online and communicate with their doctor about what they found out, and they might discover alternative ways to be healthy online. This new style of doctor-patient relationship is known as a shared decision-making model (2005). Yet, there is still a large proportion of people over 65 without the digital literacy to use the computer and Internet to their advantage. Without these technical skills, they miss out on all of the health-related information and services that have moved to the World Wide Web.
In one study, it was found that increasing digital literacy skills among older people through an Internet training program increased their interest in health matters and self-treatment (2005). Moreover, because of the new technology skills the older participants had and their use of health related Internet resources, their health locus of control shifted from internal to more external. In other words, they felt more in control over the matters affecting their health (2005). Comparatively, in my 2012 study, 175 people surveyed showed that people feeling more in control of health, or having a high locus of control, were more likely to consult websites on health-related matters, and were more likely to assess their online experience as positive (Hruska, 2012). Hence, increasing the digital literacy skills of older people through training programs provides them the benefit to fully participate in the digital health care revolution and become more active participants in the care of their own health.
In 2011, America’s greatest, largest generation turned 65. This generation is characterized as being one of the most active (Brindle, 2014). Without family or career obligations, older people have time to share their wisdom, reflect, and give back. The advantage of the digital age is that the opportunities for giving back through online volunteering are much wider, more flexible, and convenient. Volunteer jobs can be completed 100% online through use of email and other tools. Nonprofit organizations need online volunteers for a variety positions in various capacities and lengths of time. Websites like VolunteerMatch make it easy to search for a position and filter results to volunteer organizations that want volunteers 55 years of age and older. Possibilities for the older volunteer might include building a house with Habitat for Humanity, providing legal or political advice, volunteering to help veterans, children, or even helping people from other countries learn English or support their community. Websites like Elder Wisdom Circle pair older people with younger people who email in questions asking for advice about their life, relationships, and other topics. Online volunteering is a desirable option for older people, but would not be possible without modern technology, which provides the tools, flexibility, and opportunities to give back in a convenient way- not to mention the enormous service that this experienced generation provides to the nonprofit organization in need.
Statistics show that more and more older people are joining social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. In fact, older adults are the fastest growing group of social network users. Adults 65 and older have tripled their presence on social networking sites in the past four years, from just over 10% in 2009 to nearly 50% in 2013 (Breener & Smith, 2013). Check out the Top 10 Best Senior Social Networking Sites and Online Tools. There are many reasons older people should use social media, including the ability to stay in touch with children and grandchildren who use social media more and more over the phone and letters to share news and pictures. As a personal example, I was unable to travel home for the holidays a couple years ago, but could be there ‘virtually’ the whole time through Skype video. I could see my family and they could see me, and it was almost as good as being there in person!
Another benefit of using social media is that communication is more frequent and casual, which might offer peace of mind that an older relative is safe and sound (Birkett, n.d.). Moreover, this communication is online, but older people are still connecting with others; even if they live remotely or face challenges leaving the house- they are being ‘social’. Social media also makes it possible to connect with our favorite people and products, whether food, celebrities, sports teams, and artists- not to mention the opportunity to find out right away about special deals, like saving money coupons and contests.
Modern Internet technology accessibility and training for older people is a win-win for everyone. Convenient options like video calls with the doctor online, volunteering virtually, and connecting online become more mainstream. Technologies were made to help us achieve goals, whether big or small. Why not make life easier for everyone, and more enjoyable in the golden years?
Natalie Hruska has a Ph.D. in Management, a M.S. in IT, and a B.A. in Psychology. Find out more about her here: http://research.nataliehruska.com/
Birkett, B. (n.d.). 5 Benefits of Social Media- Let’s Help Get them Online! Senior Care Corner . Retrieved February 10, 2014 from http://seniorcarecorner.com/5-benefits-of-social-media-for-seniors
Brenner, J. and Smith, A. (2013). 72% of Online Adults are Social Networking Users. Pew Internet . Retrieved February 10, 2014 from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/social-networking-sites.aspx
Brindle, B. (2014). 10 Best Volunteer Activities in Retirement. How Stuff Works. Retrieved February 10, 2014 from http://money.howstuffworks.com/economics/volunteer/retired-volunteer-programs/10-best-volunteer-activities-in-retirement.htm
Campbell, R. J., & Nolfi, D. A. (2005). Teaching elderly adults to use the Internet to access health care information: Before-after study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 7(2),e19. doi:10.2196/jmir.7.2.e19
Hruska, N. (2012). Effect of Personality on the Use and Perceived Utility of Web-Based Health Resources. Research.NatalieHruska.com. Retrieved February 16, 2014 from http://research.nataliehruska.com/research.html