Digital Safety for Seniors: The Hygiene-Based Model

In today’s digital age, where technology is involved in almost every aspect of our lives, online safety is increasingly important, especially for seniors who may be less familiar with navigating the digital landscape. In a previous episode of the Supporting Families Podcast, ‘Supporting Seniors’ Digital Literacy’, our host, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, interviewed Jesse Smith, Workshop Instructor at Connected Canadians, and Jose Alejandro Fernandez Cruz, Intergenerational Programming Assistant at Andrew Fleck Children’s Services, about a novel approach to digital safety: the hygiene-based model. Together, they explored how family support practitioners can empower seniors to safely navigate the online world and build digital competence. 

Jesse explains a common challenge for seniors in navigating online platforms, stating “I think the layering of fears is a real thing.” For many seniors, the fear of online scams or cyberattacks can be a significant barrier to embracing digital technology. Rather than instilling this fear, however, the hygiene-based model of digital safety focuses on prevention measures, similar to practicing good hygiene in the physical world. 

Imagine locking your car doors when parking at the mall—you may not be actively afraid of thieves, but this automatic habit serves as a sensible precaution. Similarly, the hygiene-based model encourages seniors to adopt healthy habits to protect themselves online. As Jesse suggests, “Don’t go do your banking at the McDonald’s Wi-Fi…it’s simply good practice.” 

So, what does this mean for family support practitioners?  

Equipping seniors with the knowledge and tools to recognize and mitigate potential risks online not only helps them prevent scams and fraud, but also builds their online confidence. 

Family support practitioners can promote a hygiene-based model of digital safety by: 

1) Staying Informed about Scams: Jose emphasizes the importance of staying informed about ongoing scams and sharing this information with seniors in accessible ways. By providing timely updates on common tactics used by scammers, family support practitioners can empower seniors to spot suspicious activity and take appropriate action. 

2) Using Proactive Measures: Family support practitioners can be proactive in addressing seniors’ security concerns. The hygiene-based model emphasizes the importance of cultivating a mindset of vigilance without succumbing to paranoia. Instead of worrying about worst-case scenarios, seniors are encouraged to adopt a proactive stance towards digital safety. As Jose notes, “Preventative medicine…that’s actually a very good analogy.” 

3) Knowing Their Audience: Family support practitioners can conduct needs assessments and offer tailored support to meet the diverse needs of seniors, whether they are beginners or seeking to expand their technological knowledge. 

Ultimately, the hygiene-based model of digital safety empowers seniors to take control of their online experiences by arming them with the knowledge and skills to navigate the digital world. To learn more about how family support practitioners can empower seniors through digital literacy, listen to the full episode, ‘Supporting Seniors’ Digital Literacy’, here.