Older Australians struggling to keep up with the digital world

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Older Australians used to paper bills, postage and personal contact are being dragged “kicking and screaming” into the digital age.

It’s a common complaint YourLifeChoices hears all the time. Seniors are struggling to keep up with the digital world when it comes to paying bills and filling out forms for essential services.

YourLifeChoices member Anne D offers one such story.

“Recently I was in the local post office renewing my passport when a couple in their 80s in the next aisle requested a form to renew their passports. The assistant told the husband that there was no form available and that the applications were now online,” said Anne.

“He explained that they did not own a computer and after a few moments of discussion the man was becoming quite upset, the attendant then gave him a form and he seemed happy until, while showing it to his wife, he realised it was an application form for a new passport. He became very angry and left.

“I am left wondering how other seniors are going to cope with these online requirements that are now in place.”

This is not a solitary case. A plethora of older Australians are in the same boats as Anne’s post office pals.

An article on www.abc.net.au earlier this week listed similar complaints from older people all over the nation.

One such senior, 89-year-old Edna Cable, spoke to 7.30 about the difficulties she faces using her digital tablet.

“It just swings around and does funny things,” said Ms Cable.

“It’s too stressful. The other night, I tried so much that I ended up in tears.”

Also speaking to 7.30, 75-year-old Jim Donaghy expressed similar tech troubles trying to use his new digital tablet.

“It’s taking me all my time not to throw it through the television or the window,” he said.

“There are three buttons on that thing. I wear glasses and I can’t even see them with glasses on. What I’ve learnt so far is to try and stay calm.”

Tech Savvy Seniors seminar trainer Martin Yates expressed concern over the difficulties seniors face when trying to access essential services such as MyGov and the Age Pension.

“They are being dragged along into this new world whether they like it or not,” Mr Yates said.

“With seniors, there’s a lot of pressure to be online.”

With most financial, utilities and government institutions switching to digital services over snail mail and face-to-face transactions, many older Australians are being forced to learn how to cope with a digital world. These same institutions provide little respite for those who prefer to use the old systems, or for those who don’t have access to a computer or smart device.

“Many of the government agencies, in particular, encourage you to use online,” Mavis Owens told the ABC.

“And they are making all the other options more difficult.”

The Government has committed $47.2 million to its ‘Be Connected’ program to help older people improve their digital skills in order to access essential services from departments such as Centrelink, Medicare and other Department of Human Services resources.

Regardless of the hurdles faced by older people, and even though around 49 per cent of over 65s do not currently engage in digital technology, the Government wants every Australian to have a “single digital identity” by 2025.

National Seniors’ Professor John McCallum is concerned that the Government is pushing older people into a corner.

“Let’s call it straight,” he said. “It’s age discrimination.”

He’d like to see resources that better meet the needs of older Australians, including maintaining face-to-face contact and personal consultations, so they don’t become isolated and cut off from essential services.

“It’s still very important to talk to people, particularly important for older people,” Professor McCallum said.

“It’s important for their health, their wellbeing and their social life.”

Do you feel that there is a lack of co-designed services for older Australians? Should more emphasis be put on maintaining old systems in order to keep people connected? When your services were switched to digital, were you ever consulted or given an option to stick with posted bills or personal contact?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca


Total Comments: 27
  1. 0

    I have been using computers since the 1980s when work began to be highly competitive in Australia. I was aware back then that if you don’t keep up to date with change you become out of touch. Since then I have taught myself web coding programs and numerous software programs. Technology is amazing. Australians have always had to change.

  2. 0

    It seems that decisions are being made for all Australians by a group who have grown up in the computer age. They don’t realise that older people grew up in a different era and technology was vastly different. Those who worked with their hands as opposed to “white collar” workers had no need for any technology and a lot of elderly women did not have paid employment after marriage.

    There are some retired people who have kept up to some degree with the digital age but there is a group who haven’t and I feel it is unfair to that group to try and force them to join the digital age. If they don’t want to use computers, why should they be forced into it. Having family members or friends assisting might seem OK but when it comes to dealing with finances digitally, those who help could be doing the wrong thing by the elderly.

    • 0

      Yes ‘Old Man’ I know the feeling; whilst I’m using the internet PC for many things I’m still far behind in knowledge with mobile phones and iPads. Left wondering when I see kids and mums in the doc’s waiting room playing on them

    • 0

      If you are behind with mobile phones and tablets then you must not be using Windows 10. It I so much simpler today than at any time in the past. Mobile phones today are just that much easier than trying to write a SMS message using those numbers only. Note I used to cheat and send my message by Skype on the computer instead.

    • 0

      Obviously OG, people who frequent this forum appear to be able to work around the digital age and my comment was not aimed at them. As usual you have taken the opportunity to tell us all how clever you are instead of addressing the topic. You certainly have the right to add to this forum as I have the right to ignore your posts.

    • 0

      Been waiting for this to come. Inevitable. The revenge of genY?
      I might have though they may have come up with some sort of basic tablets a bit like ordering in McDonalds.
      If they think most 80 year olds are going to become computer literate tell ’em they’re dreamin’. Try telling older people who come to Australia to learn English. Same problem.

  3. 0

    I retired a couple of years ago after working for 20 years as a computer programmer. I can use my laptop with no problem, but I really struggle with my mobile phone. When I go to my telco to ask for assistance they know less than I do. They sold me my phone but, for example, were unable to help me backup my phone, the first person I asked didn’t even know what a backup was. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to function in this digital world and you should not have to rely on digital access to be able to live your life.

  4. 0

    Older people should be allowed to use the option of paper forms as this what makes people feel comfortable with and less stressed. If people who technology do not know how to use or back up mobile phones then older folk will struggle, No mobile for me less stress in this digital world. If I need some help on the computer then I just ask my daughter for help.

    • 0

      Good heavens how long have computers been around now? Long enough for anybody to learn how to use them. It’s about time people stopped living in the past and kept up with life. Anybody failing to embrace technology is simply lazy.

  5. 0

    Well said, Old Man.

    I know quite a few elderly retired people who, either through financial constraints or chronic health conditions, do not use/have a computer so therefore are not online. .

    There are some things for which I refuse to use online services. My mobile phone (economical phone plan) is only used for emergencies. Budget prohibits more expensive phone plan with capabilities of using emails, apps and so on. My iPad sits in a drawer (family gift a few years ago) as I want to spend some part of my life not on a computer accessing websites.

    There is not enough assistance given to those who cannot access online services. It is not the solution to everything. Perhaps in years to come physiotherapists will be treating more people with problems due to too much computer/digital equipment use.

  6. 0

    Eventually everyone is going to have to have full membership of the digital world. Older people should be encouraged by educational programs to join in but, if they are not interested or it stresses them, they should not be forced. Why the great rush?? After all, it is only 30 years or so since PCs came into general use, and governments need only wait another 30 years (probably much less!) and, hey presto, problem solved because all those pesky neanderthals will be no more. Meantime, it would be nice if millenials (especially those in companies and government) acquired some tolerance and patience.

    • 0

      Surely 30 years is long enough for people to embrace digital technology. If they haven’t then they are just lazy as there is ample opportunity for them to do so.

  7. 0

    I know people in their eighties and even nineties who have adapted to the internet. The more you use it the better you get at doing it all. They just need a few lessons to get started as once on there are prompts to help you progress through forms and bookings and paying bills, etc.
    I shop online even to the point of having our groceries delivered or click and collect.
    It is not hard, just purchase a device, ask for help, and the world opens up for you.
    As a person with limited mobility I cherish the freedom the internet affords me.

    • 0

      I agree Kathleen but Australia is a free country and that means we all have a choice as to the way we live our lives, within the law of course. If someone doesn’t want to use the new technology why should they be forced to?

    • 0

      Old Man,
      To save paper, time and money!
      It is so easy to email rather than writing letters.
      Emails are immediate as well.
      People can be convinced to function on line with some support.
      They are missing out if they don’t.

    • 0

      Not everyone can use a computer. My husband is barely able to use a mobile phone!

      Provision should be defintely made for seniors who do not have a computer and those finding it is beyond them, especially those who are now having memory problems.

      Write to your federal member of parliament.

  8. 0

    I never do anything financial via the net. If I buy something I use PayPal, or don’t buy it.

    I recently changed my electricity supplier, as the old bunch were ripping me off. The new bunch then told me that I would have to pay extra for a snail mail bill. I suggested that all the effort & cost of attracting my business would be wasted if they did charge me for this simple service, as they would never have the reason to send me a second.

    They somehow managed to arrange my snail mail bill, without extra cost to me.

    My bank was making noises about only having swipe & go debit cards, & electronic statements. When I asked them if they really wanted me to go elsewhere, they managed to give me a non swipe card, & my statements still come in the mail.

    I checked my home insurance on a compare type sight. I found my insurance company were offering new accounts the same insurance at 10% less than my renewal cost. They reduced my premium to the new account price when I complained.

    It costs these companies quite a lot of money to find new customers. Some will rip off existing customers to pay the costs of finding new business. We need to all refuse to comply with their efforts to save a few of cents to stop this garbage. We need to make sure they realise that a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush.

  9. 0

    I get so angry when the elderly are all lumped into this basket that they can not handle the digital age. I started off with a TRS 80 in 1980. Later as newer models became available. I gradually improved my models. In the earlier days, there were no modern browsers, but chat rooms developed by going to a mode that had a green screen. There were many groups of enthusiasts worldwide of all sorts of age groups, including mine (I am now 79 and only months from 80), which each had there own chat rooms. Now everything is simplified, and the young are referred to as techno-savvy, just because they can touch Apps with their fingertips. They mostly have no idea what is under the hood of the device. I currently have five PCs operating in my house, which is full of WiFi controlled devices. My last PC I built myself, all parts sourced online. I also have iPads and iPhones which are used to control all manner of other devices in the home. There are many older people that have no problem moving with modern technology, and I have taught others who are initially scared to touch a keyboard unless they do the wrong thing. One of the problems is the programmers who thought that it is smart to insert warnings such as You Have Committed a Fatal Error. Very frightening to the uninitiated.

  10. 0

    When I retired, I started writing (by hand of course) my lifestory for my grandchildren. It was a very tiring and slow process. One day out shopping I looked to see what these new things called computers could do and asked a young salesman if I could type my life story on it. Yes he said -watch the screen. He tapped a few thing on the keyboard and up came “My Life Story”‘ He said – there done. I bought the computer and have been using them for about thirty years. I am now on Volume 4 of my life story as I continue to remember things worth recording. Apart from that I do all my financial matters, pay the bills, communicate with family and friends and am able to find out practically anything I want to know. I feel sorry for those elderly people who have not started using computers. I am 96 by the way.

    • 0

      Well done to you. I think where there is a will there is a way.
      Some people like to be obstinate and refuse to consider joining in the internet age. They are missing out sadly!

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