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In Italy, only 27% of people aged 65-74 go online, compared with 48% accessing the internet in Europe. Getting online can be an unfamiliar and even daunting endeavour for many seniors, especially when considering the prevalence of online scams. However, the internet can bring a wealth of benefits to the table by helping stay connected with loved ones and even improving health and wellness. From the value of getting online to the risks involved — and how one can stay safe, using the internet can become an enjoyable and rewarding activity for Italian seniors who wish to incorporate a positive activity into their daily routine.

 

Exploring the advantages

For Italian seniors, using the internet on a regular basis boasts a variety of unique advantages. Regarding the social landscape, social media can present as a great way to stay connected to friends and family, join online groups with like-minded interests and hobbies, and stay up-to-date on current, local events. A study published online by the Cambridge University Press in 2021 explores the relationship between social media use and life satisfaction, going on to note that Italy is a country with the highest incidence of older people and the lowest uptake of social media in Europe. In conclusion, the study found that social media may play a key role in boosting wellbeing among older individuals by “providing them with additional resources to engage actively with their social networks and society overall.”

Internet use can also have benefits regarding brain health as well. According to one longitudinal study of a large group of older adults published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, regular internet users were found to have “approximately half the risk of dementia compared to their same-age peers who did not use the internet regularly.” Furthermore, the study revealed that participants that use the internet between six minutes and two hours per day had the lowest risk of dementia. One Medscape article points out that some studies find that memory, cognitive performance, and verbal reasoning tend to be better preserved among internet users.

Online healthcare services can also open a door of opportunity to those who are open to the idea. In fact, research in regard to the introduction of telemedicine in Italy and citizens’ awareness of the resource notes that more than 90% of participants who used these services were satisfied with them. However, “a negative attitude towards telemedicine was found in a higher proportion of older adults.” While the study ultimately demonstrated that although telemedicine services are available within the country, many are simply unaware of (or ignore) its availability. On the flip side, Italian seniors who are avid internet users (or who wish to be) can take advantage of the availability, which can make appointments much more convenient and approachable.

 

Seniors and social networking

When it comes to the use of social networking sites (SNS), one unique study explored the attitudes of the “oldest-old” in a small Italian city regarding SNS after attending a training course on social networking site use. “The study’s goals are to investigate their personal experiences, choices of use and to survey their views on the usefulness of SNS and its effects on mitigating loneliness for older people.” Almost half of the participants were noted to have had a positive experience in regard to new friendships through social networking sites. Reconnecting with old friends is just one benefit for Italian seniors using social networking sites. “I found an old friend. We grew up together and I hadn’t seen her for many years. I found out she had gotten married and has grandchildren. She lives in the north of Italy, far from here,” remarked one participant.

According to the study’s conclusion, results found a positive attitude towards WhatsApp and Facebook, reported by the majority of those interviewed. As such, this underlines “the potential power of SNS to counteract older people’s loneliness and to support their social life activities.” In 2020, the Italian National Institute of Statistics pointed out that, nearly 28% of Italians above the age of 65 live alone (including approximately 1.3 million that don’t have access to a social network). Whether reconnecting with an old friend or staying in touch with family, social networking sites can prove to be of major value for Italian seniors.

 

Understanding the risks involved

Financial scams that target older adults are on the rise, highlights the National Council on Aging. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), there were 88,262 complaints of fraud from people aged 60+ in 2022 alone, resulting in $3.1 billion in losses. This highlights an 82.35% increase in losses when compared to 2021 — a statistic that demonstrates the prevalence of such scams. While not specific to Italy, it’s important to remember that online scams can happen anywhere with an internet connection, meaning that anyone is vulnerable. Romance scams, business imposter scams, and internet and email fraud are just a few common scams in which older adults can fall victim to. The slower rate of technology adoption among seniors can result in general unfamiliarity with the internet, which can result in vulnerability when it comes to recognising concerns like phishing emails.

Looking at the digital fraud problem from the perspective of a small business further underlines the weight of the matter. According to one Forbes Advisor poll, 33% of small business owners consider credit card fraud a major concern. Regarding a future outlook, digital payment fraud losses are anticipated to surpass $343 billion globally between 2023 and 2027. Taking precautions to avoid fraud is imperative for businesses and can be implemented through the correct processes, training, and by having the right systems in place. However, for seniors surfing the web, protecting oneself involves awareness of scams and knowing what to do just in case a scam arises (in addition to the installation of antivirus software).

Many seniors may find it beneficial to have a friend or younger family member explain how to use the internet (and the risks of doing so) in a face-to-face setting, where questions can be asked and everything can be explained with their devices in a visual way. Taking the time to sit down with a senior to explain the common signs of internet scams while walking them through the basics can serve as a great introduction. After understanding the basics, online webinars geared towards seniors are another great way to further bolster internet safety knowledge. According to the National Council on Aging, one featured webinar enables participants to get tips on how to protect themselves and their money, identify common scams, and discuss ways that caregivers can help.

The internet brings a great variety of benefits to the table for seniors, from the value of social networking sites to stay in touch with loved ones to general internet use benefiting health and wellness. By learning how to stay safe online, Italian seniors can enjoy the many advantages that come along with the internet while proactively keeping safety at the forefront of their time surfing the web.

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