Older Adults’ Internet Use Is Varied, Suggesting the Need for Targeted Rather Than Broadly Focused Outreach
A Review of:
van Boekel, L.C., Peek, S. T., & Luijkx, K.G. (2017). Diversity in older adults’ use of the Internet: Identifying subgroups through latent class analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(5:e180), 1-10. doi: 10.2196/jmir.6853
Objective – To determine the amount and types of variation in Internet use among older adults, and to test its relationship to social and health factors.
Design – Representative longitudinal survey panel of households
Setting – The Netherlands
Subjects – A panel with 1,418 members who were over 65 years of age had answered the survey questionnaire that included Internet use questions, and who reported access to and use of the Internet.
Methods – Using information about the Internet activities the respondents reported, the authors conducted latent class analysis and extracted a best-fitting model including four clusters of respondent Internet use types. The four groups were analyzed using descriptive statistics and compared using ANOVA and chi-square tests. Analysis and comparisons were conducted both between groups, and on the relationship of the groups with a range of social and health variables.
Main Results – The four clusters identified included: 1) practical users using the Internet for practical purposes such as financial transactions; 2) social users using the Internet for activities such as social media and gaming; 3) minimizers, who spent the least time on the Internet and were the oldest group; and 4) maximizers, who used the Internet for the widest range of purposes, for the most time, and who were the youngest group. Once the clusters were delineated, social and health factors were examined (specifically social and emotional loneliness, psychological well-being, and two activities of daily living (ADL) measures). There were significant differences between groups, but the effect sizes were small. Practical users had higher psychological well-being, whereas minimizers had the lowest scores related to ADLs and overall health (however, they were also the oldest group).
Conclusions – The establishment of four clusters of Internet use types demonstrates that older adults are not homogeneous in their Internet practices. However, there were no marked findings showing differences between the clusters in social and health-related variables (the minimizers reported lower health status, but they were also the oldest group). Nevertheless, the finding of Internet use heterogeneity is an important one for those who wish to connect with older adults through Internet-based programming. The different patterns evidenced in each cluster will require differing outreach strategies. It also highlights the need for ongoing longitudinal research, to determine whether those who are currently younger and more technologically savvy will age into similar patterns that these authors found, or whether a new set of older adult Internet use profiles will emerge as younger generations with more Internet experience and affinity become older.
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