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Successful Aging: Feeling left out of the digital future

Q. A few things recently occurred that make me feel discriminated against. For example, grocery stores advertise cost savings if you buy three or four of the items. If you are older in a household of one and on a fixed income, you may just need to buy one item. Ads in the newspapers and TV often don’t list phone numbers or addresses, just websites. Free deliveries often require a smart phone. Contrary to popular belief many seniors do not have computers or smart phones. Both are very expensive. Not everyone lives in the electronic world. Am I right? P.S. I am writing this on my neighbor’s computer. Any suggestions? K.D.

A. Dear K.D.

You and many others have a dilemma. Let’s begin with the grocery problem.

The offering of special prices on quantity may be related to the age demographics and location of the grocery store. If many families live in the area, shopping for larger quantities makes sense. If the community is older with many single older adults, single portions are likely more prevalent. I recall grocery shopping in North Miami Beach supermarkets and seeing small portions of frozen foods and sales on single item. The market was geared towards older shoppers.

Now to the digital world – Indeed not all older adults have cell phones, smart phones, tablets or computers. According to a 2017 study from the Pew Research Center, about 40 percent of adults 65 years and older reported owning a cell phone. That means six out of ten do not. In 2013 it was just 18 percent.

Despite gains, according to the report, many older adults are disconnected from the digital age. According to the Pew study, several barriers stop older adults from using devices.

Physical challenges in using technology. These challenges may be a disability or chronic disease. About two in five older adults face such challenges.

Difficulties learning to use new technologies: A significant majority of older adults indicated they needed someone to help them walk through the process in learning new technology. Only about 18 percent felt comfortable learning on their own.

Lack of confidence: The Pew report also found that those who are “digitally ready,” meaning they are confident in their digital skills and finding reliable information on the internet, are disproportionately under age 65.

Finances have a lot to do with whether or not one has a smart phone. The study reported that smart phone ownership was highly correlated with income. For older adults earning $75,000 or more, 81 percent owned a smart phone. Compare that figure to those earning less than $30,000. Just 27 percent of these households owned one.

Reading the newspaper online is not just for younger folks. Those who get their news from digital platforms do so at a rate similar to 18 to 19 year olds. And then there are video games. Again, it’s not just the young folks. One-in-four adults 65 and older say they play online video games. Once older adults join the online world, using digital technology becomes an integral and routine part of their daily lives. About three-quarters go online daily. And even more go online several times a day particularly if they have a smart phone.

One company has addressed your concern. GoGoGrandparent, a startup on-demand transportation company lets people use Lyft or Uber without having a smart phone. You make a telephone call and get a real person on the line who, in turn, calls Uber or Lyft. Walkers and foldable wheelchairs are no problem. You just need a touch-tone telephone and call 1 (855) 464-6872 for a ride.

So what to do? Regarding grocery shopping, you might change where you buy your groceries and see if there is a difference in sale items.

To address the digital challenge consider taking a beginning computer class at an adult education program in your area. Although inconvenient, libraries have computers which may help solve your problem. A grandchild can be a great tutor. Providing a reward of a home-baked chocolate chip cookie can go a long way.

Here’s the reality: We are living in a period of a digital revolution. The dramatic changes are as profound and far reaching as the industrial revolution. It’s a time of driverless cars, robots, artificial intelligence, autonomous delivery trucks and facial recognition technology for starters.

To the extent possible we need to accommodate, compensate and use whatever resources available to get what we need, when we need it and go where we want to go.

K.D., Thank you for your thoughtful question. Hope some of the information is helpful. Good luck and best wishes.

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