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Measurement of Digital Literacy Among Older Adults: Systematic Review

Adopting digital technology is becoming imperative for all areas of service and business including health care. In the era of global aging, digital technology is viewed as a new opportunity to overcome various challenges associated with aging, such as reduced physical and cognitive function, multiple chronic conditions, and altered social networking. Consistent with this trend, the proportion of older populations using digital technology has increased exponentially, although this proportion is still smaller than that of younger generations.

According to the latest Digital Economy Outlook Report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 62.8% of 55–74-year-olds are now connected to the internet, as are 96.5% of 16–24-year-olds. Improving the inclusion and engagement of older adults in digital technology is becoming increasingly important for the promotion of their health and function.  While numerous studies have measured the digital literacy of younger generations , few have examined the inclusion of older adults in the research and design of digital technologies. Moreover, existing measures of digital literacy for older adults are generally focused on acceptance models and barriers to adoption, which fail to consider heterogeneity in user ability.

As emphasized by Mannheim et al., designs that focus heavily on barriers may be marginalizing older adults by assuming that they are less capable of utilizing digital technologies than their younger counterparts. For health care professionals, the rapid digitalization of social and health care services has various implications for providing older adults with improved access, knowledge, and behavior. Telehealth platforms are a solution for frailer, older adults to receive medical support remotely, while GPS can be used to mine personalized data to locate older patients and track or predict their needs. Internet use is associated with reduced likelihood of depression among the retired, and social networking sites represent an opportunity for older adults to reduce feelings of loneliness through online interactions with family and friends. The increasing number of Alzheimer’s disease forums on the microblogging system, Twitter, for example, shows how social networking systems serve as a platform for older individuals to share the latest health-related information with others.

Therefore, this systematic review aimed to identify and critically appraise studies that involved the assessment of digital literacy among older adults and (2) evaluate how digital literacy instruments used in existing studies address the elements of age-appropriate digital literacy using the European Commission’s Digital Competence (DigComp) Framework. According to DigComp, digital literacy is defined in 5 areas: (1) information and data literacy, (2) communication and collaboration, (3) digital content creation, safety, and problem solving. For this review, we chose the DigComp over other frameworks, such as the International Computer and Information Literacy Study and OECD’s Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies because the DigComp Framework is the most generalizable across different regions and age groups.


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