Five Ways to Narrow the Digital Divide for Seniors

Seniors lack digital literacy

As the pandemic shifts our lives online, check out some of the ways people are helping seniors cope 

As the pandemic forced major establishments like schools, libraries, community centers and offices to close, more and more of our lives shifted online. As Millennials and Gen Xers caught up with friends via Zoom parties, many of their older counterparts were left behind. Even before the pandemic, older adults were much more likely to suffer from social isolation and much less likely to have regular internet access. The digital divide between those 65 and older and their younger counterparts — which has always existed —  has never been more pronounced. 

In fact, in a recent Ipsos poll conducted for Humana, 46 percent of adults 65 and older surveyed reported they had never used video conferencing technology. During the pandemic, older Americans who aren’t fluent in digital technology, or lack internet access, have missed out on important resources like telehealth access and grocery delivery services. Moreover, they are at an even higher risk of being socially isolated. 

With our friends at Humana, we broke down some of the innovative ways change makers are helping narrow the digital divide below…

1. Grassroots organizations are helping seniors navigate vaccine sign-up

Tragically, more than 80 percent of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. have been older Americans. A recent report released in partnership with OATS and The Humana Foundation indicates that about 40 percent of seniors who died from coronavirus lacked technology resources, making it harder for them to receive social support or health information, have groceries or medications delivered to their homes, or access financial management tools. Disengagement with technology are costing lives and creating barriers to health for seniors. That fact is incredibly disconcerting when considering that the easiest way to register to receive the vaccine is by booking an appointment online.

While many seniors are celebrating after receiving their vaccines (something which SNL gently poked fun at the other week), others are still struggling to navigate the slew of local health departments, pharmacies, and others involved in the process. Luckily, grassroots organizations like VaccineHunters and Vaccinate CA, staffed mostly by college students, have stepped forward to help the elderly locate and confirm vaccine appointments. Mobile vaccination clinics have also sprung up to attend to seniors and others who live in rural areas. These vary state by state, but seniors can call their local library to ask for information on where to find them. Once a senior has an appointment booked, they may need assistance getting to the vaccination site. Reach out to seniors in your community and offer to drive them to their appointment. 

2. Technology nonprofits are increasing access 

The first step to closing the divide is making sure seniors have actual access to the technology they need. A staggering 22 million seniors do not have broadband access at home. That means no access to telemedicine, no way to digitally manage finances, no way to order packages, and no means to communicate with friends or family online. Many nonprofits like Community Tech Network are increasing access by handing out digital devices and low-cost internet access to seniors in-need. If you have a laptop that you no longer use, consider donating it to an organization like Computers with Causes, which gifts refurbished computers to low income applicants in all 50 states. 

3. Covid-safe digital literacy classes have cropped up online

Digital literacy is crucial for anyone to be able to function in a world that is increasingly operating online .Seniors are a group that have always been at higher risk of social isolation, a condition that’s detrimental to their mental health and increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia. The pandemic has shuttered libraries and neighborhood centers — that used to be safe places for seniors to gain digital literacy. Luckily, with its neighborhood center and Facebook group, Humana has maintained a similar environment online to keep seniors connected and in the loop. At Humana’s online neighborhood center, seniors can connect through health and wellness workshops, online cooking classes and even classes on how to declutter your home. Other local organizations are also doing their part, offering instructional videos and call-in lines on important topics like, “How to set up a computer.” 

4. Older Americans are learning to recognize fake news 

According to a recent study, people over 65 were the most likely to visit fake news sites, and share links to these stories on Facebook. Given the lack of digital literacy among this population, this makes sense— it can be hard to identify fake news if you don’t know what to look for or are new to using the internet. Although older Americans are more susceptible to fake news right now, with the right training, they should be able to “make better decisions about online content,” according to the Stanford Center of Longevity. Humana has released a video on how specifically to spot fake health news, a topic that is crucial for older populations. Give your loved ones a lesson on how to spot fake news at home, or sign them up for a course. 

5. Investigators are uncovering fraud scams that specifically target the elderly 

Scammers are more likely to prey on elderly people than other populations. Just last year, officials uncovered a widespread telemarketing scam that managed to steal over $300 million from senior citizens. There are a few things you can do at home to make sure your elderly loved ones aren’t subjected to scams. Help them understand the key signs they may be talking to a phone scammer, or pick up the phone to speak with a potential scammer yourself if your loved one is unsure. We also suggest watching this video from Humana on how to spot the latest scams, and how to stay ahead of the newest scams as they crop up. 

If you or a loved one are still feeling overwhelmed by the digital divide, Humana wants to help. Resources like Far From Alone and the Humana Neighborhood Center are available to help you connect in a world that may feel increasingly disconnected.