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Technology and Aging

Information Technology And Older Adults

One of the most exciting areas of development in new technologies is information technology, specifically the role of the Internet. Computer use among the older population has grown dramatically but still lags behind that of other age groups. In 1984 only 1 percent of Americans age sixty-five or older used a computer anywhere; by 1997 use was up to 10 percent and as of August 2000, 28 percent of Americans over age sixty-five owned a computer (author’s tabulations from Current Population Survey). Nevertheless, the gap between older and younger adults in use of both home computers and network services widened between 1993 and 1997.

About two-thirds of persons age sixty-five and over have no computer in their household, and many of these persons say that they do not want to become ‘‘connected’’ (Russell). According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 74 percent of those over fifty who do not presently have Internet access have no plans to get online, and the majority of them feel they are not missing out on anything (Lenhart).

A good proportion of this age gap may be a cohort effect, and as younger, more computer-literate cohorts age, the gap in technological use will likely shrink dramatically in the near future. About 64 percent of those age fifty to fifty-four in 2000 use a computer, compared with 28 percent of those sixty-five and over (tabulations from August 2000 CPS), and the older age group is the most rapidly growing segment of the computer-using population (Bucur et al.).

Design issues also contribute to age differences in computer use. Poorly designed computer and Internet interfaces can be particularly difficult for older persons to use (Bucur and Kwon). Across many studies older persons report more difficulties in mastering computer technologies, and these problems are not corrected merely by improvements in training. System design must also be taken into account to increase the usefulness of computers for the older population (Mead et al., 1999).

The Internet offers a tremendous potential for older persons. Although only a small proportion of persons over sixty-five currently use the Internet for anything other than E-mail (Bucur et al.), it can be an important source of health and investment information, as well as a resource for purchase and delivery of goods such as prescriptions and groceries, and can facilitate the location and purchase of specialized assistive technologies for the disabled. Post-retirement careers can be launched, and cognitive capacity can be maintained, through online educational programs—more and more colleges and universities are offering courses and degrees via distance education over the Internet (Morrell et al.). It is also an important virtual community that can provide support to caregivers or persons whose mobility is impaired. In addition, conquering the brave new world of computing can increase feelings of efficacy and mastery (McConatha). Sherer, and McConatha et al., have shown that the use of personal computers by nursing home residents is associated with both mental and emotional benefits.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Technology and Aging - Medical Technologies, Ecological And Assistive Technology For The Disabled, Information Technology And Older Adults, Conclusion