Connectedness enhances older Australians’ wellbeing and has a positive effect on their physical and mental health.

Yet while Australians aged 65 and over are willing to learn and add new digital skills that enable them to live a better life, they also recognise that new technologies can help facilitate this.Research shows that 44 per cent of people aged over 65 years experience social exclusion, which is twice the rate of exclusion for other age groups.
Further, at least 10 per cent of senior Australians suffer from loneliness or social isolation, a number that has failed to drop over the last two decades. Shaping Connections is a research program co-created by RMIT University’s School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, and the University of Third Age (U3A). The program was set up to better understand how technology use supports seniors’ connectedness and enhances social inclusion and participation.

The group’s chief investigator, Dr Torgeir Aleti, says while the project is ongoing, findings so far indicate that while seniors recognise that new technologies can help them develop supportive and rewarding relationships with their families, there are barriers around the perceived risks of using the internet, smartphones, email and social media. 

Unsurprisingly, these typically revolve around safety; however, the problem is compounded by what many seniors see as a lack of volunteers to help them cross the digital divide.
The results also showed that seniors who went looking for advice often faced serious obstacles, with many noting their own families often displayed a ‘can’t be bothered explaining’ attitude.
Follow-up interviews with older Australians revealed that explaining new apps and constantly evolving technologies to someone who isn’t a digital native can carry a lot of emotional tension, Dr Aleti says.
Dr Aleti says while these hurdles are not easily overcome, there are other ways you can help your older friends and relatives gain confidence in using digital technologies.
Seniors benefitted from collective computer classes, such as those held at the University of the Third Age, seniors’ computer clubs and local libraries. Surprisingly, YouTube also turned out to be one of seniors’ biggest allies for learning new digital skills as it allowed them to search for content and watch at their own pace as many times as needed, he says.

Helpful tips 

Here are a few simple technology tips to help you or your loved ones become more tech-savvy when using digital devices.
1. Be password smart 

Choose a strong password that only you will know. While it’s convenient to use one for everything, if someone learns this, they can use it to access all your online accounts.
2. Keep your antivirus software up to date 

If you don’t already have antivirus and spam protection software installed on your computer, consider downloading it. There are many free options, such as Sophos or Avast, that can help protect your device from malicious software.
3. Use secure Wi-Fi networks

Avoid using public Wi-Fi to do your online banking or anything else that involves entering your credit card or banking details. Also, if you use a shared device do not save your passwords in the web browsers.
4. Think before sharing on social media

Review your privacy settings and be careful about the information you share, like your address, date of birth and phone number. Take control of your online privacy via the Settings menu.
5. Make secure payments online 

Where possible, use your credit card to pay for things online. Also, look out for the ‘https://’ and closed padlock symbol in the website’s address bar before entering your payment details, as this typically means the information is encrypted.
Source: BE Connected.
The eSafety Commissioner regularly hosts free webinar presentations to help older Australians stay safer online. Go to https://beconnected.