Today, the internet provides new ways to interact with the world through social media, online shopping, digital entertainment, and news websites. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, making the transition to a digital lifestyle is easier than ever. However, for seniors who haven’t spent their lives using these technologies, it can be difficult to know how the internet can be useful for them. It’s also unlikely they’ll be familiar with how to protect their information from the more dangerous aspects of the internet. Here are a few common ways seniors can tap into the benefits of the internet as well as a few strategies for staying safe online.
Benefits of the Internet
Connecting with Friends and Family
Social media is one of the most obvious online services seniors can enjoy. Seniors can reconnect with old friends as well as make new ones on a variety of platforms. Social media is also a great way to keep up with family, especially if family members live far away. With an increasing trend of young people moving away from home for school or work, social media and email have become the easiest way for some seniors to stay in touch with their grandchildren.
Learning About Healthcare Issues
Thanks to modern technology, seniors can use the internet to communicate and learn about mental and physical health issues using a variety of resources. Aside from the wealth of informational materials available online about different conditions and healthcare options, seniors can also contact medical professionals directly via social media, video conferencing, and other forms of telehealth.
Online forums and support groups provide a less formal context for those who want to discuss specific conditions. They can be an opportunity for seniors to share their experiences or seek advice from others about how to better cope with a particular situation. Also, engaging in online communities can help seniors arm themselves with the most current information and protect themselves from email scams. More on that later.
The internet offers a multitude of shopping options which are quickly overtaking traditional in-store purchases. Now seniors can purchase books, electronics, clothes, and more without having to leave the house. You can even order your groceries online and have them delivered to your home. This can be especially helpful for seniors who have trouble getting around town on their own.
Accessing News and Entertainment
Video streaming services can instantly provide a senior with their favorite movies, news, and television shows. Many of these offer far more options than traditional cable services and cost much less. Aside from video services, the variety of news sources available online ensures seniors can always keep up with current events. Free online video games can also keep seniors entertained and mentally stimulated.
Strategies for Staying Safe
Because so many people have access to the internet, along with the positive aspects of internet usage, there are also serious risks. These can be significantly greater for seniors as they may be more likely to travel to a harmful website or provide personal information to an unsecure source. Though the internet can be a dangerous place, there are precautions seniors can take to ensure their online experience remains safe and enjoyable.
Install and Update Antivirus Software
First, it’s important to make sure seniors have an antivirus program installed on their devices. There are many free services that will protect computers and tablets from harmful software, and most computers come with an antivirus program already installed. Setting the antivirus software to automatically update will ensure seniors always have the most current protection against new threats that arise.
Create Strong Passwords
Many sites and online services require users to create a username and password. While it may seem convenient to use common phrases and repeat the same password for different accounts, this can significantly increase the risk that a hacker will be able to access a senior’s personal information. A strong password should be at least eight characters long and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
One strategy for keeping up with complicated passwords is to record each one in a notebook along with the username. Be sure to keep this notebook in a secure place. Some web browsers will offer to save login information, which is a convenient option for those who use the internet often. However, you should never store passwords on a device that is shared by many people.
Adjust Security Settings on Social Media
Most social networks offer an option to restrict who can view a user’s profile, who can contact the user, and the things they post online. Hackers will sometimes approach users as if they were family members or friends in order to gain access to a user’s personal information. Limiting who has access to a senior’s profile lessens the chance that cyber criminals will take advantage of seniors.
Practice Email Safety
Email scams are some of the most common and successful approaches cyber criminals use. Hackers might pose as financial or healthcare institutions, and often these messages will include urgent requests that require users to log in to their accounts. The links included in these types of message will lead to a fake page where hackers can easily steal a senior’s information. As a rule, it’s best not to respond to any unexpected or suspicious messages or click any links in these emails. Even if you trust the sender, it’s best to open a new window and type the website in yourself rather than clicking the link. Also, avoid opening attachments from senders you don’t know.
The email tactic is especially malicious since there are so many healthcare policy changes today that do affect seniors and require action to be taken. In addition to following basic email safety precautions, it’s helpful for seniors to be familiar with the pros and cons of all the healthcare options available to them by engaging in online communities. Being tuned-in to the conversation helps seniors discern which heatlhcare emails are legitimate and which are not. Knowledge is power, and the more information a senior has, the better able they are to sniff out a scam without clicking a single thing.
Avoid Unsecure Websites
Seniors should be careful any time they share personal details online, especially when entering information related to banking, shopping, or healthcare. One way to tell if a site is safe is to look at the beginning of the website address for the letters HTTPS. In this, the “S” stands for secure, and the information typed on an HTTPS website will be encrypted so that hackers can’t intercept it. If the web address begins with HTTP without an S, the site is not secure, and you should not enter any personal details.
While the internet can be a fun and educational resource for seniors, it’s important that they learn to use it responsibly. With a bit of awareness about the major risks involved and a few basic precautions, it’s possible for seniors to enjoy what the internet has to offer and flourish within the digital world.
Author Bio: Brooke Faulkner is a writer and senior care advocate in Portland, Oregon. When not writing, she can usually be found trying to tire out her grandmother’s dog in the local dog park. Follow her on Twitter @faulknercreek