There is an uneven distribution of computer users between age groups. The least represented is the senior citizen population (65 years and older). This can be due to several reasons. The most likely reasons are inaccessibility and inadequate technical training.
Elderly adults often face the difficult transition from living independently to assisted-living. Accompanying this transition is a number of lifestyle changes that may engender additional complications for this individual. Especially in the elderly, lifestyle changes can increase the risk for depression or make existing depression worse. Some of these changes include: adapting from home to an apartment or retirement facility, feelings of isolation or loneliness, and loss of independence.
Risk Factors and Late-life Depression
Late-life depression is commonly under-diagnosed or unrecognized by a physician due to the fact that often, symptoms of depression may be overlooked due to highly comorbid symptoms of depression and other ailments affecting the geriatric population. Even with this knowledge, studies of recognition of depression in older medical inpatients show low rates of recognition of depression by attending physicians (Cepoiu et al. 559). Studies regarding the survivorship of the elderly with depression reveal that patients with depression are more likely to develop symptomatic vascular disease, and those with vascular disease are more likely to die if they are also depressed (Levy 332). Thus, the recognition of risk factors can go a long way in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of depression in this elderly population.
A prevalent risk factor for depression in the elderly population is social isolation as a result of being housebound or disabled. Individuals receiving inadequate emotional and social support due to social isolation are more likely to develop depression, report lower conditions of well-being, and be at higher levels of disability (9).
Computers as a Potential Solution
Computers can be used to alleviate some of these risk factors to some extent. However, a survey conducted by Pew Internet & American Life project shows a clear distinction between computer use in our generation and that of older senior citizens (Fox 2):
- Just 15% of those over age 65 have internet access, compared to 75% of those between 18 and 29 years old
- While 56% of all Americans go online, only 15% of Americans over the age of 65 have access to the internet
- 13% of the U.S. population is over the age of 65, yet only 4% of the internet population is over 65
- 81% of people who say they definitely will not go online are over 50
- Only 6% of Americans over the age of 65 say they definitely plan to go online
These statistics show clear differences in the access and use of computers in the elderly population as opposed to younger generations. The internet is a potential tool for promoting continued social interaction within the elderly population. Popular uses for the internet include emails and social networking sites. The internet can alleviate many of the aforementioned risk factors for late life depression by providing social networking sites to engender social interaction. It also provides a means for elderly individuals to find support communities dealing with issues common to this group such as aging and chronic disease. Unfortunately, the elderly population comprises most of the strongest internet holdouts. There are many reasons accounting for this difference. Many older adults are frustrated with learning how to use a computer and often believe that the internet cannot bring them any benefits. Also, many seniors lack computer access due to physical and technical barriers. Physical barriers can include immobility or ineptitude due to physical ailments or conditions. Technical barriers often include lack of training and technical support, not knowing how to use computers. Finally, there is a general lack of perceived need for the internet. Senior citizens are often unaware of the full potential of the internet and online communities (Nimrod 390). Therefore, it is clear that there needs to be a mediating agent to facilitate the bridging of the gap between the elderly population and computer technology.
One organization aims to bridge this gap, providing a possible solution to this problem.