Internet Use in Canada by Seniors Grows Significantly

Almost half of Canadian seniors are now online, according to a new report by Statistics Canada. The rate of seniors, classified in the report as people aged 65 or older, getting online grew 20% between 2010 and 2012. 48% of Canadian seniors are now using the Internet, a number that rose 8% over the previous two-year period and was primarily responsible for bolstering the overall number of Canadians using the Internet to 83%.

Statistics Canada spokesman Mark Urbach said, “The use of the Internet may not only be age-based, but there’s also sort of a cohort effect. Once people start using the Internet they’re not likely to stop using it as they age. So as young users and boomer-aged users move through the age cohorts perhaps we’ll see that trend continue.”

Mobile Internet use grew by 75% between 2010 and 2012 in Canada, with only 8% of Canadians 65 or over accessing the Internet from their mobile phones. Seniors tend to use the Internet less than other age groups. Only 21% of seniors were online more than ten hours a week, compared to 50% of those aged 18-24.

What More Seniors Online Means for Business
Traditionally, online stores and marketing have not been targeted to seniors unless the business was in an industry specifically serving them. With the new statistics, every business should be taking the needs of seniors into account when designing websites and organizing online marketing efforts.

What are the needs of seniors? To feel included as part of the audience that your marketing is speaking to, as well as more tangible items such as accessibility measures for websites. Accessibility isn’t just key for seniors, but for Internet users with limited mobility and vision. Many accessibility recommendations don’t just make a website more usable for seniors, but more visually appealing and understandable for the majority of Internet users.

Items that make websites more accessible for seniors are:

  • Text resizing tools
  • Visual aids such as graphics or video
  • Consistent and clear language use, especially on medically-related websites
  • Use of a sans serif font such as Verdana

For a more complete list of items to make your website more senior-friendly, see this guide from the American Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine.

Barriers to Getting Online for Seniors
The key differentiator between which seniors are online and which are offline is income. Only 28% of low-income Canadian seniors are online. While you can get online for free at local libraries and community centres, you still generally need transportation to get there and back, and the mobility to be able to do so. Most importantly, you have to have training programs in place to help seniors get online. Many local libraries and senior’s associations offer free training programs to help with just that, but the numbers would climb significantly if lower-income seniors had access to computers or tablets in their own homes.

Despite the problem of getting low-income seniors online, the significant increase in the amount of seniors on the Internet will shape the future of the medium, and give seniors better access to programs and services that they previously may not have known about.