What do your seventeen-year-old niece and seventy-four-year-old uncle have in common? An obsession with TikTok? Maybe, especially if they live in Lorain County. A recent community needs assessment of older adults in Lorain County paired with census data has revealed some surprising and exciting data related to older adults and internet usage. And while Uncle Joe may not be making TikTok pasta, there is a pretty good chance he could at least find you the recipe online.
Residents of Lorain County are both getting older and getting more connected to the internet.
Residents of Lorain County are both getting older and getting more connected to the internet. Data from the American Community Survey indicates gradual but steady increases in both the percent of the population that is over the age of sixty-five and the number of older adult households with broadband internet subscriptions.
How older adults in one community are using the internet
ACS data is helpful in understanding what percentage of older adults are connected to the internet, but it cannot give us much detail beyond that. What exactly does increased connection mean for the community? In 2021, Community Solutions worked with the Lorain County Office on Aging to conduct a needs assessment of older adults in the county. As part of that process, we gained a more nuanced understanding of how older adults in that community are using the internet.
As part of the assessment, a survey was distributed by mail, email, and through social media. The way people responded was analyzed by the method of survey completion by age. A clear split in connectedness became evident. We found that those aged seventy-five and older were much more likely to complete the survey by mail than using the internet. Those aged under seventy-five, however, complete surveys online at a much higher rate.
With a large number of individuals aged 60–74 years old completing the survey online, it may not seem entirely surprising that the number way one way people reported identifying and accessing community services was through the internet. However, in the over 10,000 previous surveys we have administered, word of mouth has always come up as the number one way people access information. For this survey, the internet being number one is likely related to both increased internet access in the community and the impact of COVID-19.
COVID’s impact on connectivity and a changing paradigm
The needs assessment survey was distributed in Lorain County in early 2021, at a time when many older adults were continuing to socially distance themselves as a precautionary measure to avoid contracting COVID-19. During this time, nearly everyone, older adults included, relied heavily on the internet for activities they had previously done in person. With in-person connections limited, we all turned to social media, websites, and email to maintain whatever connections we could. While access to and use of the internet was increasing before the pandemic, the isolation resulting from social distancing likely sped along the adoption of technology in older adults’ everyday practices.
With in-person connections limited, we all turned to social media, websites, and email to maintain whatever connections we could.
For many years, the general practice of communicating with older adults has relied heavily on traditional forms of media including print, radio, TV, flyers, and word of mouth. These communication practices are still the ones most likely to reach people over the age of seventy-five. With increased access to broadband internet and increased technological skills developed during the pandemic, internet-based communication strategies confidently be used regularly to reach older adults under the age of seventy-five.