Broadband Divide Limits Seniors’ Web Benefits – Will Hurt More in Future

Home broadband service is, for 70% of adults in the US, the on-ramp to the web and all it offers.

That on-ramp, though, is enjoyed by only 43% of seniors, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center.

While an improvement over the 31% of seniors with broadband in the 2010 survey, they still lag far behind the other age groups.

In a world in which being connected is increasingly essential, those seniors among the 57% without broadband at home are missing a lot today and even more in the future.

Sure, 20% of the youngest adults don’t have broadband internet at home, but three-fourths of those have smartphones and the ability to connect tablets and computers to what many consider to be essentially broadband via cellular data systems. In fact, a growing number are using the convenience and speed of 4G to cut the cable (as many have done already with home telephone service).

Is this an area where family caregivers should show senior loved ones what they’re missing — and then help them get it?

Broadband Increasingly Important

We talk a great deal here at Senior Care Corner about the benefits of getting senior loved ones on the web and social media in particular. It really takes broadband access speeds to make some of those benefits a practical reality, though.

“Why do I need faster internet – after all, I have all the time in the world” is a question we hear from seniors, often related to us by family caregivers who have urged them unsuccessfully to leave their dial-up internet for broadband.

What do our senior loved ones miss without broadband and its always-on connection to the world?

  • Keeping in touch with more than just words. Many seniors share pictures with family members via email, Facebook and other options. Anyone who remembers how much fun it was to wait on even one picture to download with a dial-up connection knows that many few pictures would be shared if that’s all we had today.
  • Let’s not even think about what video would be like without broadband, especially since some services won’t even connect at slower broadband speeds. That goes for more than shared personal videos, too, with millions of viewing options on YouTube and other sharing sites. Of course, commercial video streaming and download services put much more content within reach.
  • Keeping up with the news. Sure, many local papers can be read without a high speed connection (and, yes, there is still the paper version of most), even many local papers are starting to include videos on their sites. For those who rely on a number of sites for their news and even weather, broadband is virtually a must.
  • Information on health, disease and healthcare options is spread across many websites and social networks. Without the ability to access these and move from one to another, our senior loved ones risk missing out on a lot.

And those merely scratch the surface!

Home Broadband: Essential Part of Seniors’ Future?

As important as broadband has become to many internet users today, it’s not a stretch to think it will be an essential part of the future for seniors who want to age in place in the years to come.

Those wanting to stay in their homes a long as possible, especially those living independently, will find many ways in which having those homes continuously connected via broadband.

  • Home appliances, lights, entertainment systems – really most everything in the home – will be controllable from a computer, tablet or even smartphone. Much of this can be done today, but the cost and complexity put it out of reach of many. In addition to being controllable within the home, broadband connectivity will enable even long distance family caregivers to assist, provide tech support or even just get the peace of mind that comes from knowing things are going well.
  • Healthcare delivery is likely to change significantly, which should allow seniors to live independently longer than is possible today. Innovations in the works or being tested today will allow physicians and other providers to make housecalls without setting foot in the home. Vital signs and many tests will be taken, tracked and evaluated without the need for our senior loved ones to set foot in a provider’s office.
  • Remote home monitoring, a concept understandably rejected by many seniors today, will grow in importance to those wishing to live on their own as long as possible. Technology will make monitoring so unobtrusive that many will forget it’s in their homes. We expect many seniors will decide that some sort of continuous monitoring made possible by broadband will be preferable to moving into a nursing home or other facility where personal privacy is surrendered to an even greater degree.

Those options are a few available or close enough in the pipeline today to nearly touch. There are undoubtedly many more applications that will make use of home broadband which exist today only in the imaginations of innovators or even innovators-to-be.

Cost as a Hurdle to Home Broadband

Many seniors and others see home broadband as an expensive luxury that doesn’t justify the cost, especially when food, medicine and other essentials would be the tradeoffs. The same was true of dial-up internet access not so long ago (really!).

Today there are many providers who offer basic home broadband service at a price lower than many realize and more affordable than expected. The price will likely only decline over time.

There are a growing number of home broadband offerings that are subsidized by government or commercial enterprises, many in the name of making broadband universally available in communities urban and rural.

Many family caregivers will decide (many have already) that making broadband available to senior loved ones in their homes is important and take steps to make it happen, sometimes even paying for it.

We are more comfortable knowing our own senior loved ones have broadband connections in their homes and hope it is not long before all family caregivers feel the same comfort.