Seniors Lack Easy Access to Important Health Information

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by Ray Burow |

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I have a bone to pick with someone, though I am not certain with whom.

We must do a better job at reaching the senior population with information that specifically concerns their demographic. The internet is a great tool, even essential, but approximately 27% of adults 65 and older say they do not use it, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Access is lacking

That leaves a gaping hole of individuals who have to find other means of accessing information. This can be a frustrating process for elders, considering everything worth knowing is online, and many seniors claimed they “never go online” in the Pew Research study.

The powers that be, whoever they are, seem to have decided that the best way to communicate important information is via the internet. I don’t disagree, but learning how to find that information is a daunting process for many seniors. And that’s before we add dementia to the equation.

Take COVID-19, for instance

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 85 and older have the greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC’s website explains that risk: “8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults 65 years old and older. Visit CDC.gov/coronavirus for steps to reduce your risk of getting sick.”

Yet, 27% of senior adults will never read that quote because they do not access the internet. They will not visit the website to learn more, because they may not know how, and they probably don’t have internet service anyway.

According to AARP, 62% of seniors ages 70 and older use smartphones. Seniors can access information about COVID-19 and other pertinent topics via their smartphones, if they use the phone to perform tasks other than calling and texting — and many do. Obviously, this doesn’t include the 27% of seniors who never go online. That’s the pesky percentage that is concerning. So how do we reach the individuals who access information differently?

The role of news

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of adults ages 65 and older watch the news on network television, compared with 8% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29. The seniors that I know religiously watch the news and are constantly bombarded with COVID-19 information. Unfortunately, the tagline for the COVID-19 news story is often: “Learn more by visiting the station’s website.”

News stations often inform seniors how to access information about COVID-19, and give them the web addresses where they can secure a vaccination appointment. However, this doesn’t translate to the 27% of those seniors who simply don’t go online.

A foreign language

We’re expecting seniors to speak our language, to be bilingual in terms of internet usage. We think we’re doing a great job, making all information available, but inaccessible information is useless. Call a senior’s primary physician, and before you even reach an operator, in many cases, you’ll receive a voice message. This message informs the caller to visit the website for info on where to receive a vaccination.

I know this from personally trying to secure a vaccination for a 92-year-old with dementia. Imagine if she were attempting to locate the information on her own. Yet, this is the demographic that’s most at risk.

The problem didn’t just rear its head with COVID-19. Information access is an ongoing problem that existed long before the virus. Booking doctors’ appointments is completed through online portals, and telemedicine visits, though a great option, aren’t easily navigated by a number of senior citizens who aren’t internet-savvy, or by those with dementia. Seniors are also limited in their response to hospital and healthcare provider surveys, both online and in written form.

An elderly woman with dementia received a survey from the hospital where she was admitted for seven days. She didn’t remember anything about her care, but the second sentence introducing the survey read: “Do not fill out this survey if you were not the patient.”

At best, the administrators don’t understand how caregiving works or the cognitive limitations that people with dementia have. I hope that caregivers will take the time to write a letter to a hospital administrator if their loved one receives this type of survey.

Aside from expecting 27% of seniors to get up-to-speed with the internet, what can we do?

Do not assume that the seniors in your life are accessing information they need, particularly in regards to COVID-19 vaccinations. Put on a mask, go next door or across town if necessary, and help your friend or family member fill out forms. Set up appointments, and write them down on an old-fashioned paper calendar. We have to step in.

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Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.

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