Introduction: older age groups and digital


This article sets the backdrop for the Joined Up Digital project. Paddy Hanrahan undertook a piece of work late in 2015 on behalf of AB (The Centre for Ageing Better) to assess the state of the digital landscape within ageing, using a lot of the research that David Wilcox had collected over his many years of working on the subject. This was also covered in a blog by Paddy on the Ageing Better website.



What is digital?


Firstly it would be useful to lay out what we mean by digital, as it is much used and possibly overused term. I define digital simply as:


"Online technology that connects people and electronic information"


Digital is not a new invention or separate function or subject: it is pervasive in all we do. I see it as the latest phase of human technological evolution - becoming more high-tech, and more networked. And the result is ever increasing connectivity – broader and better access to other people, services, and information.



Usage of digital - the facts


The most interesting point for me when I reviewed various sources of evidence, was to see that take-up of digital varies greatly between older groups (if we consider age groups of 55 and up).


Evidence shows there is a significant engagement with digital among those aged 55-64, e.g. “half of people aged 55-64 have a social media profile” - Ofcom media use 2015 report.


But for those over 75 it is clear that this age group are not as well served by digital as other age groups. For instance: “Those at older ages (75+) are over five times more likely not to be using the internet than individuals aged 55 to 64.” - Age UK Digital inclusion report, 2013.


What is clear is that there remains a stark difference when comparing usage between younger and older age groups.


There are clear benefits to be obtained from using digital technology and services – from connecting to family and friends, learning more about hobbies and interests, through to easier use of banking and services. So what are the challenges for older age groups that prevents more widespread adoption?




In assessing the landscape I found that there are a number of barriers that go beyond digital skills training:


  • Individuals – people who did not grow up with PCs and the Internet are more likely to lack digital skills. People are often willing to adapt and learn but they need to see the case for doing so. There should be more focus on providing digital benefits indirectly – making use of close networks (e.g. family, carers, and community) to get individuals connected through others.


  • Organisations – many VCS organisations offer IT skills training & some digital services, but require digital transformation themselves in order to better serve their members. This is challenging and expensive in the current climate.


  • Infrastructure – many older people do not have access to the internet at their place of residence, e.g. “Only 25% of registered care homes in the UK provide internet access to residents.” - GO Science report on future of ageing, 2015


  • Public services – there has been a shift of public service channels to ‘default by digital’ which provides great convenience to those connected, but disadvantaging many older people when not properly co-designed or effectively rolled out.


  • Innovation – there is a wide array of excellent technology and digital services emerging in the ageing marketplace, many of which respond to the need for age-specific solutions that respect differences in ability. However many fail to reach the intended end market. Social investors perceive a lack of end customers (and potential scale) and consequently few ageing innovations make an impact, which in turn reduces funding and innovation.


  • Marketing – the digital marketplace already has thousands of apps & tools that cover many needs and offer convenience and connectivity. But they are not reaching the majority of older people. We must understand why. It could be a failure of marketing: “…the over 50’s hold 80% of the UK’s wealth and are responsible for as much as 40% (£260 billion) of total UK annual consumer spending – yet they currently receive in the region of 10% of marketing focus” - Active Age report on Ageing Marketplace, 2013