For those who are already online, the benefits of the using the internet are easily taken for granted. It has become so ingrained in our lifestyles and we rely upon it so profoundly to carry out day-to-day tasks that an age before the widespread availability of online services seems almost incomprehensible. However, there are thousands of elderly people who are still living an offline existence and for who the online world feels slightly alien. The irony is that they have more to gain from it than most.
Keeping in touch
Perhaps the most common reason for elderly users to log on (and indeed the most common reason amongst all users of any age) is to keep in touch with loved ones whether it be by email, social media or internet phones. As many elderly people have difficulties getting out and about and particularly travelling long distances, the internet can be a salvation.
Email – The oldest and still most common method of communication on the internet is email. Simple to use, it can replace the need to send (and pay for) traditional letters which take days to reach their destinations. Emails will also allow you to attach items such as pictures, videos or links to other items on the web that you want to share. What’s more, they are delivered in an instant and there are many free to use email services such as Gmail and Hotmail which you can sign up for.
VoIP/Internet Phones – If emails are the internet’s version of a letter then the internet’s version of a traditional phone line is an internet phone service, or what is more formally called VoIP. VoIP is easy to use through a computer with services such as Skype but can also be set up to fully replace you traditional phone line, complete with handsets. The major benefits of VoIP are that you can make cheap (often free) calls to friends and family who live anywhere in the world, whether they’ve moved to the other end of the country or New Zealand. You can therefore add the personal copper bottle touch of actually speaking to friends and family without having to travel and/or accumulate high costs. To go one step further you can even make ‘video calls’ – in other words use webcams to actually see your loved one as you are speaking to them.
Social Networking – Keeping up the analogy, social networking can be considered to be the internet’s version of meeting up with all your friends and family in one place. Services such as Facebook or the new Google+ give you an online space to let your loved ones know how you feel, what you are doing, find the same out about them, send them instant messages and share any kind of content such as pictures and videos that you’d like.
Although there are still (and to some extent always will be) some concerns over the security of financial information online, banks, service providers and online shops (ecommerce sites) are always working to make their sites more usable and secure. By taking sensible precautions, such as only using trusted sites, the internet can give elderly users a renewed sense of independence as they can pay their bills and manage their finances with only a few clicks of a button from the comfort of their own living room.
The benefits, therefore, can again be most keenly felt by those who have difficulty getting out to the bank or post office to carry out these tasks in person and who may have had to rely on others for help in running these errands for them.
Virtual all major high street shops will now have an equivalent store online and many independent retailers will too. Whatever you are looking for there is a very good chance that you will be able to find someone selling it somewhere online, and for more popular items, there is a likelihood that it will be cheaper. Importantly for elderly shoppers, online shops will deliver purchases to your door (sometimes for no extra charge) and so, whether it be groceries or a new TV, shopping online can save a troublesome trip out to the shops or relieve the dependence on a helper; again reclaiming independence for many who may have mobility issues