Investing in Digital Literacy to Better the Health of America's Seniors

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the severity and danger of the nation’s digital divide. Not having access—or not having proper digital literacy and skills—was potentially life-threatening. In addition to serving as a lifeline for accessing healthcare and government services, managing finances, ordering groceries, and other essential tasks, the internet has also become the primary means for social engagement. 

“The physical isolation imposed during the height of the pandemic brought new attention to the risks of social isolation and loneliness that had reached epidemic proportions long before the pandemic. Older adults have been particularly impacted, with one in four feeling socially isolated and more than four in 10 feeling lonely. According to the CDC, both pose a serious public health risk… 

“To close the digital divide, we need to give seniors the skills and confidence to use the internet effectively. A multiyear partnership between OATS and the Humana Foundation to develop evidence-based digital literacy training and support models for older adults has shown the impact these programs can have on better connection, health, and wellbeing.


“During the height of the pandemic, a public-private partnership was formed to bring internet connectivity, devices, training, and support to 10,000 low-income seniors living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments, with OATS providing the training and hotline support through its flagship program Senior Planet from AARP.


“The training was age-specific, extensive, and provided by a qualified trainer. Participants met twice a week in Zoom classes for five weeks on topics such as online navigation, Gmail basics, internet safety, and managing device settings. New skills were linked to real-life applications in social engagement, health, financial security, and other areas important to older learners.

“A follow-up study undertaken by OATS with assistance from Cornell University researcher Erin York Cornwell and published in the report, Fly Like an Eagle: Measuring Transformational Social Outcomes Among Seniors Using Technology, found:


  • Individuals participating in this online training program reported making new social contacts via an online platform at twice the rate of those who hadn’t participated
  • Sixty percent reported participating in a new social event or group, more than double the nontrained group
  • Those receiving training were about half as likely to experience worsening depressive symptoms, and more than half of trained participants felt less frequent feelings of loneliness following the program, a 20 percent higher rate than the control group

Read the full story in NPQ

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