Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Digital Technology Use Among Older Adults in the U.S.: What Has Changed Since the COVID-19 Outbreak? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

518P (see Poster Gallery) Digital Technology Use Among Older Adults in the U.S.: What Has Changed Since the COVID-19 Outbreak?

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Xia Yu Chen, MSW, Pre-doctoral Fellow, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Jennifer M. Evans, MSW, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Simon Mwima, MA, MPH, Public Health, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Dora Watkins, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Moses Okumu, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated progress towards the harnessing of digital technologies to improve the health and living standards of older adults. Yet, the digital divide - the inequalities in access and the use of digital technologies - still exists and are widening for marginalized older groups. If unaddressed, this digital divide can lead to greater inequalities among already disfranchised older adult who may struggle access to information and resources necessary for social participation, social networking, health and well-being. Therefore, this study aims to examine (1) the change of digital use among older adults in the U.S., (2) relationship between change of digital use and new technology use, and (3) determinants contributing to the digital divide including the divide in new technology learning after the outbreak of the global pandemic.

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.