Why Rural Seniors Need Reliable Rural Internet
Updated: Nov 19
Senior Citizens Moving Rural
"Senior Citizen" - is this a positive word grouping? Is "senior citizen" a negative phrase in your mind? Or is it just a couple of words for you - no emotion attached?
It was a fun exercise to look up "Senior Citizen" synonyms and find that none of the synonyms are great - retired person, pensioner, old person (yikes!), Methuselah (!), old fogey (come on now!), or my favorite - crumbly (wow). Yet we are all heading that way. Chances are great that your parents are there already.
Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho are a hub for retirees as Senior Citizens / baby boomers move to more desireable rural areas. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,19% of the U.S. Rural population is 65 years or older as compared with 15% of the population in Urban (metro) areas. There are 1,104 counties in the U.S. that are classified as "Older-Age-Counties" (synonym "Old-Fogey-Ville"). An "Older-Age-County" is a county in which 20% or more of the population is 65 or older; 20% of these "Older-Age-Counties" are rural counties.
Rural America, Aging Populations & Health Trends
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, folks in rural areas are more inclined to have poor health due to:
higher rates of unhealthy behavior
less access to health care
less access to healthy foods
I disagree with this article as far as it applies to our region - Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho - due to the tendency of this age group choosing to move here explicitly for:
the outdoor activities all year round (hiking, kayaking, snow shoeing, down hill and cross country skiing, water sports, biking)
the incredible range, quality and availability of health care
the farm fresh food availability (local farm produce, eggs, poultry, beef, fishing, etc)
But when weather (or health) changes, access to these resources are seriously challenged. Expotentialy more so if the senior citizen no longer partakes in the winter activities. And there is the additional impact of social isolation. Social isolation has been shown to significantly increase a person’s risk of premature death and reduced quality of life (50% increased risk of dementia, 32% increased risk of stroke, 29% increased risk of heart disease). These access challenges are minimized greatly with the use of the internet:
computer / on line exercise routines with coaching and tracking
telehealth visits with your medical provider and availability of Home Healthcare
ability to order food on-line for delivery or pick up at the store
facetime/zoom/skype visits with friends and family as well as game playing such a solitaire, on line poker
Trully, the internet is the LIFELINE for senior citizens in rural areas - particularly when we have tough weather, BUT (and this is a BIG But - I'm not fond of big buts and I cannot lie) an older adult in rural areas is 1.6 times more likely to lack internet at home due to the following:
There can be a learning curve for Seniors as they may not have kept up with technology as it became available.
Rural Internet Access can be an issue in our neck of the woods.
There can be resistance from Senior Citizens to use the internet.
Affordability of the internet for Senior Citizens.
Internet Problem Solved for Senior Citizens
Many senior centers offer classes and there are some home visitation personal coaches available in most regions (search on Facebook). Additionally, there are online training programs tailored for older adults offered through:
2. Fast Internet USA offers Rural Internet Choices based on location and availability of service, internet uses - data and speed needs, and customer budget. When you search for "internet companies near me", we may not be the first company that pops up. The big boys pop-up first - like Verizon, Xfinity, TDS; but these companies cannot provide High Speed Internet if you are out of town. We look up your location and explain your rural internet choices - the pros / cons of each one and how they relate to your needs - financial, data usage and speed.
Fast Internet USA provides reliable, stable rural internet signal with stellar customer support.
3. The resistance from older population is related to a combination of factors, some
already addressed in this blog - financial, lack of know-how and the learning curve,
embarrassment in learning as well as fear of cyber-security and exposure/vulnerability to
scams. The security concern is a valid one but one that can be addressed with education and planning. Furthermore, the security issue should not stop a person from accessing the internet but instead inspire healthy caution and seeking out ways to safe-guard when using the internet. Cutting oneself off from the internet is like the saying "cutting your nose off to spite your face" as benefits of internet use for the senior out weigh the risks; The relationship between internet use and health status among older adults has been documented. (https://agingconnected.org/report/)
4. On May 12, 2021, internet services became more affordable for those in a lower income
and fixed income bracket with the Emergency Broadband Benefit. This allows for typically
$30 / month discount for internet services (with participating carriers) and up to $100 in a
one time discount for a laptop, desktop or tablet purchased through a participating
provider. Contact the Affordable Connectivity Program to apply or find out more.
Tips for Helping a Senior Become Comfortable With Using the Internet
Although older adults have shown an increase in technology use (cell phones, internet, computers), there is usually room for improvement in technology literacy. A recent study at University of California San Diego found that seniors' frustration with new technolgoy hampered their motiviation to use the technology. Here are seven tips to get the ball rolling:
Determine the interest level and current ability level; if you assume no experience or understanding you can come across as patronizing and create a shut down in learning. If you start teaching at too high a level or too fast, you can create a shut down due to overwhelm and frustration.
Create motivation by identifying a goal: if your Father wants to play on-line poker with his buddy in Pittsburg, make the internet learning work towards this goal.
Choose your language and tone carefully as tech language and jargon may be foreign and alienating. Find words to explain to technology that are understood cross-generationally and particularly outside of just the tech-world. In other words, use layman's terms.
Empathize and shift gears when hitting a brick wall: everyone has a point at which either a break is needed or a shift in focus. Be aware of when frustration levels are mounting and be prepared with an alternate activity (like shifting from learning zoom calls on a desktop computer to checking email on a cell phone). Or take a break.
Find an Outside Resource: some senior centers have on-line game days. Of course there are the resources listed above for training.
6. Encourage Internet Safety: You will need to strike a balance between being informative and scaring the pants off of them. Mentioning the importance of strategies such as strong passwords, using in caution in communicating any personal information and how to identify scam / phishing emails and texts (from what really looks like Amazon, the US Postal Service and FB or even friends on Facebook).
7. Practice, practice, practice: the most important thing is to just get on the devices and do stuff. I think 10 minutes a day to start would put a person in a good place in about a month. But each individual's ability is different. Keep the goals in mind (poker game via Pittsburgh). More ideas: https://eversoundhq.com/blog/technology/7-tips-for-teaching-seniors-how-to-use-technology/
Final Words for Senior Rural Internet
If your folks live out in the sticks, internet is vital for their health, safety, social well-being, and nutrition. We are ready to help with the essential element - the actual internet.
The resistance to the internet can be addressed and we are ready to set your folks at ease.
Remember, learning is not age dependent. But aging is faster without continued learning. "Older people show significant cognitive benefits from learning, provided they have the opportunity to do so." Creating an enriched environment (even with a rural address) enables plasticity of mind - mental flexibility. And a better quality of life.
"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." -- C.S. Lewis