The question for this week’s column comes indirectly from a phone conversation I had with a 96-year-old reader from the San Fernando Valley.
She describes herself as essentially homebound; she lives alone, uses a wheelchair and has no local family. She said her interaction with the outside world is severely limited because she has no computer. She had been trying to get in touch with me, and a friend from her library sent me an email with her phone number asking if I would give her a call – which I did.
The topic of our conversation was about a column I wrote on older women feeling invisible (July 22, 2022) often referred to as the Invisible Woman Syndrome. The women I interviewed for that column shared their experiences in restaurants, in family gatherings, shopping in stores and using public transportation. This older reader suggested another important dimension to this topic – feeling invisible because of no computer.
For those of us who are computer-savvy think about how we use our devices in our daily lives. We communicate with family, grandchildren and friends through texting or email. We take classes, shop, watch movies, listen to music, book airline tickets play games and have telehealth visits. We file taxes, check the weather and traffic, pay our bills, manage our bank accounts, check the financial and real estate markets and use it for remote working. And then some of use it for submitting stories and columns to our editors. All of this connects us to the outside world. For most of us, living without technology is almost unthinkable.
Among older adults, reasons for the digital void typically include the cost, one’s physical and mental limitations, or the attitude of “I just don’t like technology.”
The issue raised by our reader is significant.
Check what you know about older adults and their use of technology. There may be some surprises.
1. More than 15 percent of those age 65 and older have no computers and no internet access.
True. That 15 percent is not evenly distributed across the U.S.
2. More than 68 percent of those with no computers or internet access occur in Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
True. Likely reasons are lack of awareness, training, the price of devices or broadband limitations.
3. When it comes to digital health, healthcare professionals assume older patients are willing to use technology.
False. In one study, healthcare professionals equated older age with poor technological skills and assumed they lacked “digital health competence” and generalized this to all older adults. Researchers attributed this to ageism.
4. Having a computer means one has a reliable Internet connection.
False. In 2019, about 4 million older adults had a computer with no Internet connection; just over 7 million had no computer.
5. Even though older adults are more digitally connected than ever, there is still a generational divide.
True. The good news is that more older adults are connected each year, particularly through smartphones. Yet many still have a distant relationship with technology and typically are less affluent and have lower levels of education.
Older adults who want a computer and cannot afford one have some options. The opportunities typically are based on age, usually 60 years and older, disability status, income and need. For a resource for low-income families, see https://www.gov-relations.com/free-laptops-for-low-income-families. The irony is that you need an electronic device to access the information.
So, what to do? If you know of an older person who feels invisible and isolated primarily because of no digital devices, consider reaching out to help. Ask if you can use your device to help that individual access services or information or find an affordable device and training opportunities. Seek out those who would welcome such support by contacting a faith-based community or any organization where older adults may gather. Consider it as one of your acts of kindness.
Thank you to our reader and our conversation about feeling invisible.
Stay well everyone and stay connected – digitally and in person.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at [email protected]. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity