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JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018 Dec 10;6(12):e10049. doi: 10.2196/10049.

Mobile Phone, Computer, and Internet Use Among Older Homeless Adults: Results from the HOPE HOME Cohort Study.

Author information

1
Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States.
2
Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States.
3
Center for Vulnerable Populations, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States.
4
Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States.
5
School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The median age of single homeless adults is approximately 50 years. Older homeless adults have poor social support and experience a high prevalence of chronic disease, depression, and substance use disorders. Access to mobile phones and the internet could help lower the barriers to social support, social services, and medical care; however, little is known about access to and use of these by older homeless adults.

OBJECTIVE:

This study aimed to describe the access to and use of mobile phones, computers, and internet among a cohort of 350 homeless adults over the age of 50 years.

METHODS:

We recruited 350 participants who were homeless and older than 50 years in Oakland, California. We interviewed participants at 6-month intervals about their health status, residential history, social support, substance use, depressive symptomology, and activities of daily living (ADLs) using validated tools. We performed clinical assessments of cognitive function. During the 6-month follow-up interview, study staff administered questions about internet and mobile technology use. We assessed participants' comfort with and use of multiple functions associated with these technologies.

RESULTS:

Of the 343 participants alive at the 6-month follow-up, 87.5% (300/343) completed the mobile phone and internet questionnaire. The median age of participants was 57.5 years (interquartile range 54-61). Of these, 74.7% (224/300) were male, and 81.0% (243/300) were black. Approximately one-fourth (24.3%, 73/300) of the participants had cognitive impairment and slightly over one-third (33.6%, 100/300) had impairments in executive function. Most (72.3%, 217/300) participants currently owned or had access to a mobile phone. Of those, most had feature phones, rather than smartphones (89, 32.1%), and did not hold annual contracts (261, 94.2%). Just over half (164, 55%) had ever accessed the internet. Participants used phones and internet to communicate with medical personnel (179, 64.6%), search for housing and employment (85, 30.7%), and to contact their families (228, 82.3%). Those who regained housing were significantly more likely to have mobile phone access (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 3.81, 95% CI 1.77-8.21). Those with ADL (AOR 0.53, 95% CI 0.31-0.92) and executive function impairment (AOR 0.49; 95% CI 0.28-0.86) were significantly less likely to have mobile phones. Moderate to high risk amphetamine use was associated with reduced access to mobile phones (AOR 0.27, 95% CI 0.10-0.72).

CONCLUSIONS:

Older homeless adults could benefit from portable internet and phone access. However, participants had a lower prevalence of smartphone and internet access than adults aged over 65 years in the general public or low-income adults. Participants faced barriers to mobile phone and internet use, including financial barriers and functional and cognitive impairments. Expanding access to these basic technologies could result in improved outcomes.

KEYWORDS:

aged and middle aged; cell phone; homelessness; internet; smartphone

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