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Older people living alone less likely to have internet access, study shows- Irish Times Feature

Original article posted by The Irish Times. Link to article is here

Widespread use among over 50s indicates ‘strong feasibility’ of contact tracing app, researcher says.

Three in five people aged 80 and older do not have access to the internet, researchers from Trinity College Dublin have found.

The latest report from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)says internet access decreases with age. Only 38 per cent of those aged 80 and over have home internet access, compared to 86 per cent aged 50-69 years, and 66 per cent aged 70-79 years.

Just under two-thirds of adults aged 50 and over have access to smartphones or tablets. Almost 80 per cent of older adults use the internet for information sharing, 72 per cent for sending and receiving emails, 43 per cent make audio and video calls online, while 40 per cent engage with social media.

Just under a third of adults aged 50 and older who live alone do not have internet access. Three-quarters of older adults living in urban areas have internet access compared to 67 per cent in rural areas.

Paul Doody, lead author of the report and health research assistant at TILDA, said the data indicates there is frequent and varied use of the internet among adults aged 50 and older.

“Particularly in light of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, the internet provides a valuable resource for many to maintain social interactions, obtain information, access support services, and engage in online commerce,” he said.

“However, our data also indicates a relatively large section of the population are without home internet access. This is particularly the case for older age groups and those living alone. For these individuals, more traditional forms of communication and information distribution, in combination with ongoing family and community support, are likely to be essential.”

Minjuan Wang, co-author of the report and senior data manager said the data suggests “strong feasibility of the plan to use a contact tracing application to combat Covid-19”, as the majority of adults aged 50 or above have access to the internet.

“Nevertheless, we should also bear in mind the continued importance of traditional forms of communication, as there is still a substantial section of the population that does not fully embrace modern technologies like the internet,” she said.

“The optimal approach would be to combine both traditional and modern methods of communication to ensure full coverage.”