Methods: Data were drawn from National Health and Aging Trends Study, a longitudinal study representing the Medicare enrollees ages 65 and older living in the United States in 2011 and 2015. Our study focused on rounds 9 and 10 and COVID-19 supplement data (N= 3,257). We conducted paired-sample t-test to analyze the change in technology use behavior before and during COVID-19 and Pearson’s correlation to examine the relationship between various digital divides and new technology use. Logistic regression was conducted to examine how sociodemographic, health, and digital use experience factors were associated with the digital divide in new technology use.
Results: During the COVID-19 outbreak, paired sample t-tests showed that the use of telephone calls (t = -7.94, p< .001) and email (t = -8.49, p< .001) for social contacts decreased, while the use of video calls increased significantly (t = 5.34, p < .001). The use of online grocery by self (t = 8.30, p< .001) or with help from others (t = 6.857, p< .001) also increased significantly. On adopting new technologies during COVID-19, 23% of the total participants reported learning new technologies and 34.8% of them received help from others in the learning process. The adoption of new technologies was positively significantly related to the change in video calls usage, online grocery, and the possession of cellphone and tablet devices. In logistic regression models, age (odds ratio [OR] 0.98, 95% CI: 0.96 - 0.99), women gender (OR 0.61, 95% CI: 0.49 - 0.77), Black race (OR 0.48, 95% CI: 0.27 - 0.87), medium income level (OR 0.41, 95% CI: 0.28 - 0.61) were negatively associated with the new technology learning. While owning digital devices including cellphones (OR 3.17, 95% CI: 1.84 - 5.45), computers (OR 1.93, 95% CI: 1.40 - 2.65) and tablets (OR 2.26, 95% CI: 1.80 - 2.84) were positively associated with the new technology learning.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings show that older adults adopted/used digital technologies to cope with COVID-19 stressors. The digital divide among older groups in the U.S needs redress to promote health equity. Interventions and programs are urgently needed to simultaneously increase older adults’ access of digital tools, and digital literacy. Policymakers should provide affordable and accessible technological service.