In today’s increasingly digital world, it’s easy to forget that a huge number of the older generation struggle to use the internet.
The latest numbers sourced by the Office of National Statistics in 2017 showed that of those in the 75 and over category, only 41% were ‘recent internet users’.
Although these figures have significantly increased from 20% in 2011, these figures are still pretty shocking, especially to other generations who grew up with computers in schools.
In many ways, though, having a world that’s so dependent on computers and the internet could be having a negative impact on the population.
While there are clearly many societal causes, the growth of the internet and social media – and its impact on face-to-face interactions and even postal communication – could be part of the reason why loneliness is now affecting almost three quarters of older people in the UK.
While this study found that three in five respondents felt social media helped them feel less lonely, this doesn’t necessarily help the older generation, who are far less likely to have access to the internet compared to other age brackets.
In my job, as an activities co-ordinator in an MHA care home in Leamington Spa, I spend a lot of time with people who may have just left their homes and families, which can sometimes be a really isolating experience.
While this move is almost always necessary, whether that be for care reasons or safety, it seems sad to me that, often, so many can’t use the internet and social media for what it is; a great tool to stay in touch with friends and family, as well as a hugely useful resource for all kinds of research, such as family or local history.
If you never used the internet at work or even school, the horror stories of hacking and technology companies keeping your online data can seem really scary.
I know that many older residents living in care homes have viewed the internet with a huge amount of anxiety. These fears are completely rational, and older people can quite rightly feel uncomfortable interacting confidently with the internet after all the warnings they have been given over the years.
Unfortunately, the fact remains that the internet can be a really dangerous place, and this is something we cannot avoid.
However, this doesn’t mean residents need to avoid it all together given the right support and know-how.
It’s really important for us all to look into ways that we can help residents and older people to overcome this anxiety.
At our home, we recently had a local technology speaker come in to discuss the benefits of the internet and address any concerns; we’re still investigating ways that we can continue to empower our residents to use the internet in a safe environment, while also making sure everyone, including staff, is aware of the dangers and risks.
Basic internet safety training, as well as addressing and answering any queries, is a great place to start.
After all, there’s no point trying to teach a group of people how to create a status on Facebook or send a photo via email if you’re terrified of setting up an account.
It’s the little things that make people feel at home and comfortable in a new environment.
While it may seem silly to a tech-savvy teen, if you can teach new residents how to use email or Facebook and have accessible computers in your home, you will help residents find a brand-new channel of communication with friends and family, as well as potentially opening up a whole new interest or hobby for individuals.
I’ve even heard lovely stories of schools organising classes where teens teach local elderly residents how to use technology, which is also a fantastic way for intergenerational friendships to develop.
Having a safe space to use the internet could be just the link many people need to help them settle into a new home.
Jackie Tudor is Activities Co-ordinator at MHA Homewood. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @MethodistHomes