More Older Adults Online - Especially From Their Phones

Megan Lynch
July 18, 2018 - 6:40 pm
Old elder senior man on mobile smart phone

© Andreblais |


St. Louis, MO (KMOX) - Twenty years ago only 12 percent of older adults were surfing the web.  Now nearly 70-percent are online. 

One small device may be a big reason.

Smart phone use among people over the age of 65 has quadrupled in just the last five years (Pew Research Center).

Amy VanDeVelde , National Technology Program Manager for the Oasis Institute based in St. Louis, says that's a big shift from trends just a decade ago.  "If you look at the Pew Internet in American Life Data, you can see that older adults were adopting tablets because they could read on them and they could use them for internet searching and they were much more hesitant to adopt phones at that time.  They viewed phones as expensive, luxury items and things that wouldn't necessarily have a lot of meaning in their lives for the price point."

Oasis centers across the country offer programs and classes to promote healthy aging and lifelong learning. 

Courses on smartphones are a popular option.

VanDeVelde tells KMOX there are a number of reasons why seniors are embracing smart phones in increasing numbers.  "One is as they watch people in their lives use the devices and realize how many apps and different applications for the phone and uses are relevant for their lives, they adopt.  The other is that in lower income situations people who do not have internet in the home may adopt a smartphone as their only point of contact with the internet."

She does point out, communication is still the primary reason many older adults pick up their cell phone.   But beyond calls and messaging, many seniors are learning to use smartphones as a tool in everyday life.  "Most seniors know how to take pictures.  They're familiar with that but think of the camera as a separate device.  When they understand that the phone has a camera that's always with them and they can take photos of say a prescription bottle and use the device to magnify the size or something else that has small print that they can't read."

One popular app for seniors... step trackers.  "Someone who's trying to manage diabetes or another chronic condition and wants to know how active they were or thinks I really haven't had my steps today can look at their phone and see how many steps they've had."

When it comes to a popular website for older adults -- eBay -- but not necesssarily as buyers.  "A lot of the seniors I know are actually interested in emptying their attic or their basement so we teach people how to sell."

Van DeVelde says Oasis also offers classes in internet and cell phone security, teaching about things like location services and phishing scams.