senior man communicating online

The ongoing pandemic has encouraged all of us to do more online. This has been challenging for many older people. Maybe they had to order shopping online for the first time, or learn to manage medical visits and order prescriptions via the internet. It has also increased feelings of isolation.  Seniors have been slower to adopt communication technologies than other age groups and for this reason can feel more isolated. During this week’s Silver Economy Forum in Genova, Italy, a panel of academics and senior care specialists discussed the implications.

Only a third of Italy’s senior population owns a smartphone, and for half of those, Whatsapp is the only communication technology they use. Why are silver surfers still in the minority? Because they still need to be convinced that it’s in their best interests. As a group often targeted by fraud attempts, they are right to be sceptical. We need to reassure them, said the panel, and help them understand how tools such as video calls and social networks can improve their lives.

Technology reinforces the existing social fabric, and has more potential to be effective in a strong community. As technology providers and creators, it’s our job to remember that technology can complement human interaction, but it will never replace it.

Some care homes have been very successful in establishing online communication channels, using social networks such as YouTube or Facebook. These initiatives are often driven by ‘younger’ seniors (the 70-79 age group) who are keen to stay in touch with their families, but also to participate in events such as exercise classes and communal worship.

Many older people were prompted to socialise and shop online for the first time during the pandemic because the advantages became clearer. This has important lessons for areas like telemedicine, where the seniors who might benefit most from the technology still don’t see what’s in it for them.