5 reasons many seniors are afraid of the internet (and what you can do to help)

5 reasons many seniors are afraid of the internet (and what you can do to help)


Albert is 69 years old. Last Christmas, Albert’s 39-year-old son bought him a tablet with touch-screen display, thinking it might prompt him to go online and read the news. After all, Albert loves the idea of getting news and checking the weather forecast at any time of day.

Albert’s son had high hopes for his father’s new tablet: He imagines he might even be able to share with Albert some of the inspiring articles he finds online. Who knows, they might even cheer up Albert and give father and son more to talk about?

To Albert, his learning curve seems very steep: Whether it’s real or imagined, Albert is deeply intimidated by the internet.

He has heard stories about dangers lurking in the online world, and he’s afraid he might fall prey to an online scam. Albert consoles himself with the thought that he’s probably not missing out on much more than nonsense memes and a collection of cat pictures. After all, the Internet might just be a waste of time.

Albert is seriously considering this tablet has been a complete waste of money…


Is the internet simply another place to waste time on silly cat pictures?

Do you think Albert’s 39-year-old son understand his father’s fear of the Internet and why he can’t simply ‘get over it’? The author can attest: His son (me), has little or no understanding of why his father won’t switch on the tablet and experiment with it.

However, having researched and written this article, the author has gained a new feeling for the many reasons senior citizens might hold themselves back from embracing the internet.

Let’s uncover why senior citizens like Albert are fearful of venturing online, and why, a few seniors have embraced the world of opportunities available to them online, and could never turn back to a life offline.

1. There is a divide between seniors and the rest of the population using the internet


Albert’s story is backed by statistics. In the USA, only 59% of people over the age of 65 use the Internet daily, as opposed to 86% of all adults under 65. There is good news for those of us online: The number of elderly going online is increasing every year.

The world continues to see a rise in seniors accessing the Internet. Many countries now have active Government and non-profit programmes that teach older people how to use the Internet. Those that don’t have those services often have access to enthusiastic children or grandchildren who hopefully have the patience to teach their elders to use a computer or tablet.

Especially for the elderly, the internet can be a way of accessing not only information but a way of keeping in touch with friends and family that might not have otherwise been physically possible.

2. Poor Eyesight and other disabilities make it difficult to use the internet


Many seniors admit they have difficulty using the internet due to a disability. Poor eyesight is commonly cited. According to research on Pewinternet, two out of five American seniors have a “physical or health condition that makes reading difficult or challenging”.

At least poor eyesight is becoming less of an excuse to avoid going online. Nowadays, there are some great reading solutions online, such as text reading software and text enlarging software that magnifies text. In fact, text magnification is now a built-in feature on most modern computer browsers and operating systems.

Albert doesn’t have this problem – he has a great pair of glasses and a large tablet with pinch-to-zoom. So no excuses there.

3. Older people without internet access are disadvantaged because they miss out on important information


For most of us digital natives, access to the Internet feels like a fundamental right, such as access to fresh water or sanitation. The UN has declared internet access to be a human right. However, many seniors who have never used the internet might not see what all the fuss is about.

It’s hard to describe the benefits of social media to someone who has difficulty switching a computer on. Simply using email or browsing news would be a great start for people like Albert.

Rather predictably, not even half (48%) of non-Internet-users believe they are missing out. Amongst regular senior internet users, the majority (79%) agree that their offline counterparts are missing out on information.

Clearly, once Seniors join the online world, online technology becomes an integral part of their lives, making it easier to interact socially, run daily tasks such as finding a plumber or paying bills online. The internet rapidly becomes a part of daily life for many seniors embracing its’ convenience.


4. Surprising fact: Older adults using social media sites socialise more frequently than non-users


Like many people, Alberts friends and family is spread out all over the world. Like many seniors, he finds it challenging to socialise in person, especially as he no longer drives a car. This seriously affects his ability to participate in social activities.

According to Pewinternet research, some 81% of seniors that use social media socialise with others on a daily basis. Whereas only 63% of seniors that don’t use social media socialise with others daily. Those using social media get out socially more often!

It appears that social media offers an additional ‘venue’ to socialise, and perhaps indeed, to plan in-person meetings and social events. Seniors who use social networking sites such as Facebook to socialise online are more likely to regularly socialize with friends, whether online, in person, or over the telephone, compared with seniors who are not social networking site users.

Ironically, becoming active on social media sites leads to more social interaction – not social isolation. Given that Albert struggles with loneliness and isolation, social media might just be part of the solution.


5. Increasing online threats mean older users face real dangers online


Albert has heard about the many threats there are online, and as we can attest at Emsisoft, there are some very real threats online. No-one is immune to these threats. Unfortunately, some online criminals target seniors for their lack of skills online and use this to exploit their advantage.

Albert might do well to heed some practical advice from the MSICS in the USA, which can help senior citizens avoid getting caught out by online threats.

Internet users should avoid emails or social media messages that:

  • Offer “free” gifts, prizes or vacations, or exclaim, “You’re a winner!”
  • Offer discount prescription medications or other “can’t miss” deals.
  • Appear to be from friends or family members, but the message is written in a style not usually used by that person, has numerous misspellings, or otherwise seems unusual. This is an indication your friend or family member’s account may have been hacked.
  • Appear to be from official government agencies, such as Social Security Administration, or banks, requesting personal information.
  • Set ultimatums such as “your account will be closed,” or “the deal will expire” to create a sense of urgency, and trick the victim into providing personal information.

Naturally, an article like this wouldn’t be complete without recommending that any PC user should have up to date up to date anti-malware software. Emsisoft is proud to have a high percentage of senior users, and we frequently hear that seniors find our anti-malware easy to install and manage.

Did Albert ever learn to use his tablet, or did he give it to charity?

The author is pleased to report that Albert is getting past his aversion to his tablet. His caregiver recently enrolled him in a free programme called ‘Senior Net’ which teaches seniors to work with technology.

Gradually, the digital divide is being bridged. Who knows, father and son may soon be sharing stories online – anything is possible!

Don’t let age become a barrier to seniors participating in the online world. If you’re a computer-savvy person reading this, you could consider setting up a PC for a senior family member, client or friend. When you do this, consider setting up high quality, easy to use anti-malware software right from the start. This will keep seniors safe from harm and ensures they can confidently explore the online world, and perhaps even enjoy an enriched social life!

  • cookedjacketpotato

    69 is not old.

  • barb boggs

    I agree Cookedjacketpotato. I am 69 and started in computers in 1966. I’m the one that pushed my kids at a very early age to use first the Atari and continued from there. At 13 my son had his own BBS (that was 32 years ago!). However, since retiring a few years ago the advances are leaving me behind. Even tho I’m still somewhat of a computer geek I now have to ask my kids questions about new technologies. I understand how anyone without computer experience could be shy about starting to use a tablet, laptop or whatever. That’s why this article is such a winner. You younger “kids” need to be patient and take the time to encourage your parents/grandparents to get online. But first make sure they have EMSI antiwalmare installed and teach them how to respond to threats. Once they understand they can be safe and all that is out there for them to explore, I think you will see some happy people :) :)

    Thanks for a great article!!

  • mark99k

    I’m at a loss to see why Emsisoft’s program dialogs follow the current tiny-fonts convention popularized by Microsoft. In my experience this, not scams or tech jargon, is the single biggest obstacle for seniors. A few companies (e.g., Kaspersky) get this, and make their dialogs legible, but a majority of others foolishly assume 8pt Segoe is just great for everyone. (And it’s rarely a matter of limited space, as is occasionally presumed; most program dialogs have substantial empty space and/or are far smaller than the smallest monitors, meaning their elements could be enlarged without problems.) Emsisoft is known for bucking trends. Why not buck this one?

    I recently started creating custom versions of some of the simpler dialogs in Microsoft Word, using font sizes of 12 to 18 points and eliminating the pointless separation of functions on different tabs. It’s a lot of work, but has been well received by users, and not just elderly ones.

    • Jaklo

      Use an inbuilt magnifying glass mark99k, or download one … learn how to use it, or go to Google settings and increase the font size on your screen.

      • mark99k

        Sorry, these are poor and impractical substitutes. While a dynamic spot-magnifier (that senses when a dialog appears and magnifies only that dialog, or a user-specified set of dialogs, without distorting or disappearing big chunks of the rest of the screen) would be a nearly ideal fix, to my knowledge it doesn’t exist yet. Inbuilt magnifiers are extraordinarily clumsy, as they assume it’s practical to pause for several seconds to position it, read the text, then move it away or turn it off. It’s faster to squint and suffer.

        Many of my clients (users) are also seniors or nearly seniors, but they’re mostly still working, already decently versed in computing, and have a need to work efficiently — they do much more than check email and Facebook. Their needs are trivialized by dismissive responses like “learn to increase the font size.”

        • Beige Allen

          I already have huge vision issues at 48. Hooked a computer up to a 50″ TV and added a wireless keyboard. Made the text larger and increased my working space, plus allows me to do tutoring sessions for elder friends that are struggling to learn and do better from personal instruction. I take my laptop to the community room by the leasing office and do classes there for anyone that wants to drop by. The neighbors bring their tech toys with them to learn hands on how to do what they want to do with those toys (Skype family, send photos, read books, etc). Those that have interest in more complex tech knowledge learn how to use the toys they have to get that too.

          • mark99k

            Nice. A client of mine did the same recently, and while I initially had doubts (since they make TVs with very large screen sizes but apparently not “monitors”), it worked really well for her and now I’m actually jealous. Hell, even for people who don’t need the larger fonts, a giant monitor gives you more places to position more windows. It wasn’t that expensive either.

  • Jaklo

    My clients are seniors, my service is free to them. My mother-in-law is 85 and in the last 6 months she has learned (from me) how to use an Android tablet and an Android ‘phone.
    Teaching is a misnomer, assisting someone to learn with a machine and understand something of the machine is different.
    Seniors have more learning experience in a multitude of areas over a longer life than ‘much younger people’.
    What have much younger people learned in their lives, how to use a smart ‘phone, a computer, a microwave and a remote TV, over 18’s learned how to make a car move forward, not total control in all sorts of road and weather conditions, and forget the road rules.
    Most seniors are able to learn how to use the Internet, the way everyone learns to do everything, one step at a time.
    Younger people cannot teach how to use the Internet, they lack patience, they should be taught how to help others learn.
    Many seniors I know have been to computer classes and admit, “A waste of time, the ‘teacher’ wrote on a white-board, we each had a computer on a desk, the teacher rattled on and on and walked around each person telling them to ‘do this or do that’, we had to write on a note-pad but when we were home we had forgotten almost everything, even how to turn on the damn machine.”
    Most computer ‘teachers’ that I know love telling how clever they are to elderly students.
    Seniors are not dumb, they shut their ears to the constant negative comments from much younger people. Comments such as, “You stupid old ‘so-and-so’, pathetic ‘cool-speak’ and an eff-word.”
    It’s time for younger people to learn to respect senior citizens, to listen to them and expand their knowledge of real life, senior citizens are, and will always be smarter than younger people.

  • Sokrates

    AAARGH! Le plus ça change, le plus ça c’est la même chose!
    When I was a kid I was quite fed up with pompous articles pontificating about children thinking this way, behaving this way, seeing the world this way and having to do this and that in their free time: I was a child then and still thought my own way, behaved my own way, saw the world my own way and in my free time did what the hell pleased me (at least as long as my mother wasn’t checking). And strongly loathed the feeling of being a sort of a bacterium under the microscope.
    Now I’m an old man (72) and still think, behave, see the world, do things and use the internet the fricking way I like. Don’t ask me how, apparently I managed to stay myself all the while despite the life’s efforts to squeeze me into any of its prefab pigeonholes – and no, I’m not even ashamed of it :-)

    Hence my subdued suggestion: when you need an article about senior citizens (or children, or colored, or red-haired, or any other artificial human category you may think of), have one of them write it: they are not all idiots and as insiders they will really know the matter.

    One last thing: somewhere above I read the expression “the benefits of social media”. Would you mind to elaborate?

  • Eagereagle

    It is a state of mind if you ask me. These (afraid) people have been so a way or another their entire life. My good lady friend will turn 80 at the end of the year, she lost the use of one eye and is impaired on the other. Nevertheless, she is on internet all the time, doing her on-line banking and shopping as well and reading email or renting a summerhouse or Skype with friends at the other end of the world. She has Emsisoft as a safeguard software and keeps it up to date. And by the way she only started using internet 8 years ago. But it helps her keeping in touch and socialize and…she is even capable nowadays to sort some annoying PC problems occurring at start or in the course of internet use. The important thing is that she is alert and not easily fooled and since a long time does not believe in Santa Claus, Fairy-tales or too good to be true stories anymore. It helps.

  • Cat Tilley

    I’m among one of the groups listed here, the disabled who is homebound.

    If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d have no social life. Because of the Internet, I have friends all over the world, and am careful not to open emails from those I don’t do business with or don’t know. Ads for various medications are frequently in my ‘junk’ or Spam’ email boxes, and normally will delete all. Occasionally a legit email will land in the Spam box, yet not often. Choice of email provider is also important, some has better filtering than others, and some also has online storage of items as an extra.

    Plus I have either EAM or EIS, depending on computer, and this has built in Surf Protection, as well as real time Malware protection, something that no one can go w/out. Security is supposed to enhance the Internet experience, not hamper it. While ‘free’ solutions are certainly better than nothing, or even the built in security, many comes with a price, PUP’s & popups. Some of which can render a computer unbootable (optimizing utilities).

    EAM & EIS offers none of this, nor are any PUP’s included in it’s package, just what’s needed for the install. Making life easier for all, especially seniors who may not understand how to run a AV/IS package, everything is fairly much automated, including new releases.

    So being disabled & on the computer 8-12 hours per day, feel confident that I’m in safe hands with Emsisoft. With a full 30 day free trial, what’s there to lose in giving the brand a shot? Once used, many will see for themselves that it’s great protection at a fair price, with an added benefit of renewals dropping in price over time, up to 60% total, as long as the license is constantly in use. Plus Emsisoft occasionally offers killer promos, like two for the price of one deals.


  • Edc Bhurfv

    I’m a little disappointed by the name Albert. The legendary man in the picture is obviously Harold, also known as Hide-the-pain-Harold.