For 12 years, Community Tech Network has been connecting older adults who are tech-savvy with their less technologically minded peers to increase the number of older adults who have digital access to information. While important during any crisis, access to information becomes more vital when it comes to public health emergencies.
Public health crises like the coronavirus usually affect older adults most strongly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the overall death rate from the disease at 2.3 percent of all people infected, but 15 percent among adults over age 80 and 49 percent of critically ill adults. While older, more susceptible individuals deserve increased attention, the digital generation gap leaves out many of these most vulnerable. This is especially critical in Texas, where 4 million Texans are 65 or older. According to the U.S. census, the Austin–Round Rock metropolitan area had the second-fastest-growing population of adults age 65. For these seniors, the health crisis is also an information crisis.
As is currently happening around the world, the public health crisis can sequester a significant population at home. A younger person can keep in touch with colleagues at work and interact with friends and family. They can also follow the news about the crisis on a variety of digital media and can peruse health-related websites and contact a doctor’s office electronically if they begin to feel ill.
Contrast that with an elderly person living alone. Only 40 percent of older adults use smartphones, declining to 17 percent among adults age 80 plus. More than a quarter of older adults lack access to the internet. They may have only a few days’ worth of groceries and medication and may be unable to contact the social services that typically support them with rides, meals, daily medical needs, or therapies. For many older adults, these services are not optional. Nursing home residents are at even greater risk because many of them are frailer and live in close quarters.
The work of CTN will continue long after the coronavirus crisis is under control. Your continued dedication and support for our mission will help ensure that our most vulnerable populations are connected and informed for the next challenge facing us.
Source document written by Karen Fingerman — a professor of human development and family sciences and director of the Texas Aging and Longevity Center at the University of Texas. Bo Xie — a professor in the School of Nursing and School of Information at the University of Texas.