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Most Older Adults Are Embracing the Internet, Poll Shows

Two-thirds of older Americans surf the Internet, and more than half of those online go there to research a topic or to get e-mail or instant messages, according to an AARP Bulletin Today poll.

But going online is not for everyone. Nearly a third (32 percent) of the 1,013 people age 50-plus surveyed say they don’t use a computer at all. For adults age 65 and older, 51 percent say they don’t use computers, compared with 22 percent of those ages 50 to 64.

More than half (55 percent) of those 65-plus who don’t use a computer say it’s because they’re not interested, which is the same reason given by 36 percent of their younger counterparts who were polled. About 17 percent of boomers who don’t use computers say they don’t have time; 7 percent of older people cited that reason.

Some older people who don’t go online might be happier if they did. According to a study released in October by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, spending time on the Internet cuts the incidence of depression among older adults by at least 20 percent. Those findings were based on surveys of 7,000 retirees age 55 and older.

Internet access allows older people to connect to others through social networking sites, possibly making them less susceptible to depression, the study found. Social interaction is particularly important for folks who have increasing difficulty getting out and seeing others.

Among people who do use a computer, 57 percent of those in the Bulletin Today poll say they turn to the Web to get more information about an issue or topic, but boomers (68 percent) were more likely than older adults (38 percent) to do that research. Boomers also use e-mail and instant messaging (64 percent) more than their older counterparts (41 percent).

Almost half (44 percent) of the respondents who use computers say they buy merchandise online, and 41 percent say they use the Internet to make travel reservations.

Ken Sauer, 52, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb, is among the 16 percent of computer users who search for jobs online. In 2001, the former warehouse manager was laid off, then decided to stay at home and raise his son. Now he’s seeking to return to the workforce.

“I’m on the computer every day,” he says, “but not for an extended period of time. Mostly I look up news stories and look for work.”

Wayne Frame, 72, of Cedaredge, Colo., uses the Internet as part of his job as a consultant for an aerospace company. He’s among the 35 percent of Internet-using respondents who go online for work.

“It’s very much become a part of my life,” he says.

Among Internet users, 42 percent have been going online for more than a decade. Thirty-nine percent of those online say they taught themselves how to navigate the Internet, while 25 percent say a friend or relative showed them.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of those polled who use the Internet say they use it daily, while 38 percent say they access it several times a day.

Older adults who are online also turn to the Internet for:

  • Banking (34 percent).
  • Reading newspapers, magazines and books (31 percent).
  • Watching videos at sites like YouTube (24 percent).
  • Playing games (22 percent).
  • Visiting social networking sites like Facebook (21 percent).

While many people use the Internet to socialize and contact old friends, Sauer says that’s not his preference.

“At my age,” he says, “most of the guys I know don’t communicate by the Internet. If we drive by your house and we see you outside, we stop and we talk.”

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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