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    Technology Ownership & Usage Among Seniors in Affordable Housing Communities

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    Lack of Internet access a barrier for low-income older adults


    A research study conducted by St. Mary Development Corporation in conjunction with Link-age Connect shows that lack of internet access is a significant barrier for low-income older adults when compared to older adults with higher incomes.


    Slightly more than two-thirds (67%) of the 208 respondents living in St. Mary’s senior affordable apartment communities had an income less than $15,000. Because of their lower incomes, the greatest barriers to technology adoption were related to finances (e.g., cost of internet service, cost of tech devices). Forty percent of St. Mary’s residents never use the internet, while only 5 percent of higher-income seniors report never using the internet.


    “We’re concerned that our residents are missing out on many benefits of technology because they don’t have internet access,” says Tim Bete, President of St. Mary Development Corporation. “We plan to raise funds to add free wifi in a few of our apartment communities and measure the impact it has on our residents’ ability to communicate with family and friends, and access online services.”


    Because of free cell phone programs, more than half (51%) of St. Mary’s residents own a smartphone while 80% the general senior population own a smartphone (participants identified by Link-age Connect). Yet free cell phone programs typically do not include data plans, so St. Mary’s residents are often unable to access the internet using their smartphones. Communication technology is especially important for St. Mary’s residents since the majority of respondents (91%) live alone compared to only 31% of higher-income seniors.


    Thirty-one percent of St. Mary respondents reported owning a medical alarm pendant, with 21% owning a key fob panic button. Survey results also covered topics including technology device ownership, phone-type usage by age and interest in learning new technologies, among others.


    St. Mary Development completed the research study through the Del Mar Encore Fellows Initiative, funded by the Del Mar Initiative Fund at the Dayton Foundation. St. Mary Development is a faith-based non-profit that specializes in affordable senior housing communities. In their 30-year history, they have developed more than 60 housing communities with more than 4,000 apartment units. In addition to developing new housing, their St. Mary Connect program links residents to social determinant of health services, such as transportation, meal delivery, healthcare and utility assistance.

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