Internet Usage Among Seniors
by: Jeremy Trogg

Though people over 60 still lag behind their younger counterparts in Internet usage, the number of seniors online is expected to swell from 14 million in 2000 to more than 27 million in by 2003, according to Internet market research firm Jupiter Media Metrix.  

The main reason seniors start using computers is because of e-mail. Next, they begin researching topics such as health, investing and entertainment. Then, they start shopping and join discussion groups.

Most Internet marketing experts agree that this usage pattern is the same as the general public's.

Older Americans also have financial clout, which should also attract marketer's attention. According to the American Banking Association, older adults own 77 percent of the country's financial assets.  It is just a matter of mistaken assumption right now that seniors are not using the Internet

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It is truly amazing that corporate America has yet to wake up to the idea that seniors are online with many retirees spending hours online every day and learning to shop online as well.

The biggest mistake is that marketers fail to attract older adults to their Web sites when they use flashy and complex designs.  Older eyes generally have to work harder to focus on text, but companies that are interested in attracting senior markets can easily make those modifications on their site.

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Plenty of white space is critical along with keeping the text on each line relatively short.  This is good marketing in general but especially important to older adults.

The National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine have published a brochure on how to make Web sites senior friendly. The brochure emphasizes consistent design and clearly presented text and simple backgrounds to make reading easier for older eyes.

Another thing that can be extremely important to senior adults online is that page file size should be relatively small.  Since many seniors have not yet moved to broadband services and therefore rely on dial-up modems, keeping that file size small lets the page load quicker and keeps the viewer happier longer.  It is all about knowing your market.

Seniors are not adverse to learning technology.  They're just unfamiliar with it, and once they have access to these new tools and the knowledge of how to use them, their lives are enriched.

Internet usage among seniors increasing

Many resources are available for seniors to start taking advantage of all the web has to offer.

The latest data indicates that the number of seniors (65 and older) using the internet has “increased by 55 percent, from 11.3 million active users in November of 2004 to 17.5 million in November 2009”, according to The Nielson Company. The amount of time seniors are spending online also increased 11 percent in that five-year span from approximately 52 hours per month to slightly more than 58 hours per month.

Further, an AARP study revealed that 40 percent of adults over the age of 50 consider themselves extremely or very comfortable using the internet (and 70 percent of online users say their online community, or network, is very important).

“The perception is that Americans over 50 only dabble on the internet, but we are finding that they are increasingly spending time online and becoming involved in robust internet activities, such as online communities,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California.

How seniors use the internet

Internet use among seniors primarily reflects that of the general public. The AARP study revealed that more and more seniors are using social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Linked-In, and Twitter. Out of 1,360 seniors polled, 27 percent stay connected through social media websites.

Of those, 31 percent use Facebook most often and 73 percent of Facebook users are connected to relatives other than children or grandchildren.

“They (seniors) are using the internet to keep up with the world and the people who are important to them,” said Jean Koppen, the AARP report’s author.

The Nielson Report revealed that viewing and sending personal email was the most popular online activity for those 65 and older, followed by: viewing and printing maps online, checking weather, paying and viewing bills, viewing and posting photos, reading general and political news, checking personal health care information, planning leisure travel trips, searching for recipes and meal planning suggestions, and reading business or finance news.

The top 5 site destinations for seniors 65 and older are :

  1. Google
  2. Windows Media Player
  3. Facebook
  4. YouTube
  5. Amazon

Benefits of internet use

For those with limited experience, attempting to grasp the internet can appear an overwhelming task. But gradually learning how to effectively navigate the web, and find sites that are important to you, can yield tremendous benefits.

Access to a wealth of knowledge: From health resources to breaking news to how-to-guides, the internet is a robust informational tool.

Increased social opportunities: The internet allows people worlds apart to communicate with ease through video conferencing, email, social networks, chat rooms, and discussion forums.

Improved mental health: The Phoenix Center, a non-profit organization that studies public-policy issues, found that “spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent in senior citizens” after examining survey responses from 7,000 retired Americans over the age of 55.

“Maintaining relationships with friends and family at a time in life when mobility becomes increasingly limited is challenging for the elderly,” said Dr. Sherry G. Ford, the study’s co-author. “Increased internet access and use by senior citizens enables them to connect with sources of social support when face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult.”

Enhanced brain function: A study conducted at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA discovered that “surfing the web for only a week stimulated areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning in middle-aged and older adults with little internet experience.”

Resources for seniors

Seniors may learn how to navigate the internet and operate computers in an assortment of ways. Area colleges, universities or community centers usually offer classes, and seniors can find many step-by-step books or ask younger family members for guidance.

There are also senior classes available through the following web sites: