Computer skills and internet use in adults aged 50-74 years: influence of hearing difficulties.
Henshaw H., Clark DP., Kang S., Ferguson MA.
BACKGROUND: The use of personal computers (PCs) and the Internet to provide health care information and interventions has increased substantially over the past decade. Yet the effectiveness of such an approach is highly dependent upon whether the target population has both access and the skill set required to use this technology. This is particularly relevant in the delivery of hearing health care because most people with hearing loss are over 50 years (average age for initial hearing aid fitting is 74 years). Although PC skill and Internet use by demographic factors have been examined previously, data do not currently exist that examine the effects of hearing difficulties on PC skill or Internet use in older adults. OBJECTIVE: To explore the effect that hearing difficulty has on PC skill and Internet use in an opportunistic sample of adults aged 50-74 years. METHODS: Postal questionnaires about hearing difficulty, PC skill, and Internet use (n=3629) were distributed to adults aged 50-74 years through three family physician practices in Nottingham, United Kingdom. A subsample of 84 respondents completed a second detailed questionnaire on confidence in using a keyboard, mouse, and track pad. Summed scores were termed the "PC confidence index." The PC confidence index was used to verify the PC skill categories in the postal questionnaire (ie, never used a computer, beginner, and competent). RESULTS: The postal questionnaire response rate was 36.78% (1298/3529) and 95.15% (1235/1298) of these contained complete information. There was a significant between-category difference for PC skill by PC confidence index (P<.001), thus verifying the three-category PC skill scale. PC and Internet use was greater in the younger respondents (50-62 years) than in the older respondents (63-74 years). The younger group's PC and Internet use was 81.0% and 60.9%, respectively; the older group's PC and Internet use was 54.0% and 29.8%, respectively. Those with slight hearing difficulties in the older group had significantly greater odds of PC use compared to those with no hearing difficulties (odds ratio [OR]=1.57, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.06-2.30, P=.02). Those with moderate+ hearing difficulties had lower odds of PC use compared with those with no hearing difficulties, both overall (OR=0.58, 95% CI 0.39-0.87, P=.008) and in the younger group (OR=0.49, 95% CI 0.26-0.86, P=.008). Similar results were demonstrated for Internet use by age group (older: OR=1.57, 95% CI 0.99-2.47, P=.05; younger: OR=0.32, 95% CI 0.16-0.62, P=.001). CONCLUSIONS: Hearing health care is of particular relevance to older adults because of the prevalence of age-related hearing loss. Our data show that older adults experiencing slight hearing difficulty have increased odds of greater PC skill and Internet use than those reporting no difficulty. These findings suggest that PC and Internet delivery of hearing screening, information, and intervention is feasible for people between 50-74 years who have hearing loss, but who would not typically present to an audiologist.