15 Oct, 2013 Last updated: 16 Dec, 2014

VicHealth survey shows seniors gain mental health benefits from using social media.

Download the media release

VicHealth has called on major telecommunications companies to subsidise internet access for seniors on the back of new research which shows a vital link between internet connectivity and their health and wellbeing.

An analysis of the VicHealth Indicators statewide survey of 25,000 people, including 8,185 people aged over 65-years-old, shows that our oldest residents are the most likely to reap mental health and wellbeing benefits from regular internet use.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said this is because older Victorians primarily use the internet to keep in touch with their families and are the most disadvantaged by lack of access, often caused by cost.

“Most people in this age group are retired, so they can’t simply access the web at work. Many senior citizens live with mobility issues, which can isolate them from family and friends. The internet provides easy, instant access to loved ones and for some older people, a line to the outside world,” Ms Rechter said.

Older people who use social media are more connected to their families. The research shows 66 per cent aged over 75 agreed that it helps them to spend more face to face time with family – the highest level of agreement of any age group.

But only 43 per cent of people aged over 75 in Victoria have access to the internet, with many unable to afford internet fees. Comparatively, 98 per cent of Victorians aged 18-24-years-old have a home connection.

“Staying in touch with family and friends is important to prevent social isolation and this is particularly true for older people who live alone. We need to bridge this digital divide because we know that loneliness is detrimental to a person’s health and wellbeing,” Ms Rechter added.

“The number one reason for not having the internet connected at home is quite simply a matter of affordability. That’s why we believe Australia’s biggest telcos need to show community leadership and offer subsidised rates to help more seniors get online.”

Download the VicHealth fact sheet on technology and older people.

The facts: older people and the internet

• Overall, Victorians have a mean wellbeing score (from 0-100 on the Wellbeing Index scale) of 77.5, whereas older Victorians have a score of 79. Older people who report a higher than average wellbeing score are more likely to have internet access at home.
• Older people with internet access at home are more likely to participate in their community than those without (71% vs. 29%).
• Older Victorians who report feeling unsafe in their home when alone during the day are likely to be without internet access (67%) compared to those with access (33%).
• Older people with net access are more likely to volunteer. Almost three-quarters of those who volunteer at least once a month have the internet at home (compared to 40% who don’t).
• Regional Victorian seniors are less likely to have the internet than their metro counterparts (56% vs 64%).
• Internet access is closely associated with income. More than 87 per cent of seniors who earn more than $59,000 a year have the internet at home. Yet less than half (41%) who earn less than $19,000 a year do.

Media contact: Jane Gardner 03 9667 1319 / 0435 761 732 [email protected]