Digital Equity for All Ages; UN Day of Older Persons

Over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050. Not only will there be more older persons globally, but there will also be more living to the furthest extremities of age as life expectancies continue to rise [1]. Population ageing is set to become one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century. Technological advances made across society are often challenging but they also present unique opportunities.

Social connectedness has been shown to have a positive effect on wellbeing across the lifespan. Older persons, are at a significantly heightened risk of social isolation due to several interrelated factors, including age related identity and role transitions, as well as physical changes to health status and functionality. Both the quality and quantity of our social relationships can considerably influence not only our health and well-being, but similarly our risk for illness and death [2]. Recent Irish research [3] highlights the association between loneliness, social isolation, and premature mortality among older adults. However, with the advancements of modern technologies, social engagement can now be extended onto platforms that allow for instant global communication.

This year, the focus of the United Nations International Day of the Older Person is “Digital Equity for All Ages” recognising the need for not only access to but also meaningful engagement with the digital world by older persons. Several reports have highlighted how older persons experience greater digital inequity than any other societal group either due to a lack of access to technologies, or from not benefitting fully from the opportunities provided by technological progress. In 2020, The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing [4] released a report detailing internet use and access in people aged fifty plus and while they highlighted a high level of access, and frequent and varied use of the internet among older adults in Ireland, they also acknowledged the relatively high proportion of the population without home internet access, and this is particularly the case for older age groups and those living alone. The need to address this has never been more pertinent given the socially distanced world in which we now live due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Information technology has the innate ability to enhance and enrich the lives of older adults by facilitating better interpersonal relationships as it allows some traditional barriers to be easily overcome [5]. Close relationships are a large determinant of physical health and well-being, and technology has the potential to play a positive role in social connectivity among older adults.

Alison Fagan is a PhD candidate in the SHE Research Group. Alison’s research explores the social factors influencing the attainment of longevity in Irish centenarians.


[1] Parker, M., Bucknall, M., Jagger, C. and Wilkie, R., (2020). Population-based estimates of healthy working life expectancy in England at age 50 years: analysis of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The Lancet Public Health5(7), pp.e395-e403.

[2] Umberson D, Karas Montez J.  (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. 51:S54–66. 10.1177/0022146510383501

[3] Ward M, May P, Normand C, Kenny RA, Nolan A. Mortality risk associated with combinations of loneliness and social isolation. Findings from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA). Age Ageing. 2021 Jun 28;50(4):1329-1335. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afab004. PMID: 33570566; PMCID: PMC7929441.

[4] The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) (2020) Internet access and use among adults aged 50 and over in Ireland: Results from Wave 5 of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing. Dublin: Trinity College Dublin.

[5] Chopik, W.J., 2016. The benefits of social technology use among older adults are mediated by reduced loneliness. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking19(9), pp.551-556.