Though seniors will soon outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history, the age bias toward youth remains alive and well. Many people may assume this creative use of an iPad is typical of how older adults view technology.
So it may surprise you to learn that seniors are embracing the digital world in droves. The tipping point for digital adoption is showing seniors how a specific technology will help them — before they actually need it.
Here’s an illustration: a son updated his old laptop, gave it to his father, and tutored him on how to use it. As he left he issued a challenge: “Anyone who can complete the New York Times crossword puzzle can master a computer!” His dad studied the manual and soon reported he was looking up places online that he’d visited decades ago. The son smiled.
But, his dad lamented, there was no manual to teach him how to navigate the Internet itself. And herein lies the rub. Digital natives are born into this technology; it’s as instinctive as the landline telephone and typewriter were to their parents. When the digital world is new, however, training is essential for digital literacy.
Brian Reimer, the leading self-driving cars researcher at MIT’s AgeLab, says, “Training is a make-or-break issue. If we don’t help people get used to the new technology now, we risk losing them forever when glitches emerge. It’s far easier to lose trust than it is to gain it, and that’s particularly true for older adults.”
The GeronTech Opportunity
Making technology senior-inclusive is imperative, because there’s a gerontechnology boom underway. From grieving to groceries to GPS, the digital world has senior living covered.
Consider the sympathy website eCondolence, which helps people do everything from craft a eulogy to plan a wake. The site offers a comprehensive Grief Support Center for individuals and families, comforters and supporters, that discusses:
- Stages of grief
- Types of loss
- Learning to cope
- How to express condolences, and more.
Since grieving is an area that confounds many people in terms of how to best help loved ones in times of loss, the extensive information eCondolence provides can prove invaluable. And a web-savvy senior can absorb the material at his or her own pace, in the privacy of their Kensington apartment.
But it’s not just “semi-taboo” topics that technology makes more approachable. Apps are accelerating how we age in every imaginable way. For instance:
Have you logged onto MySpace lately? How’s your Motorola cell phone working? These anachronistic questions point up an astonishing fact: in 2006, MySpace was the premier (indeed, almost the ONLY) social network, Motorola had the top-selling cell phone, and “app” might have been an abbreviation for apprentice or appetizer, rather than what you installed on your phone in order to work, play and connect.
Today’s seniors can visit a doctor via Skype or Zoom, have their vitals monitored remotely, and get second opinions on serious health issues rapidly, thanks to digital medical records sharing.
“Home care” has taken on a whole new meaning, with discreet tech that ensures elders’ homes will alert family members or caregivers if there is a problem, via house monitoring and a cascade of wearable trackers. It’s personal GPS, and seniors are getting on board with it.
This type of broad-spectrum monitoring is also a game-changer for senior living, making communities and residents safer and boosting family satisfaction as well.
Elders: Fonts of “Everyday Innovation”
Contrary to media portrayals of befuddled seniors having to ask their grandchildren how to use a smartphone, a new survey finds Boomers and Millennials are using their phones in a nearly identical manner.
About a third of Boomers spend five hours a day on their phones, compared with nearly half of Millennials, who spend closer to six hours. While Boomers use most of this time on Facebook, Instagram, and email, the younger generation switches up the last item to texting. No surprise there, as Boomers learned to communicate online via email; for digital natives, texting is more natural.
The eight types of apps most useful to those 65+ include:
- Ride-sharing: Lyft and Uber allow seniors to summon a car within minutes.
- Meal delivery: UberEATS and GrubHub can deliver a senior’s favorite restaurant fare for a fee — especially helpful for those who no longer drive, or may not want to dine out solo.
- Video chat: Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime make seeing the doctor or visiting with far-flung grandkids much easier.
- Grocery delivery: Instacart and Shipt do the grocery shopping and bring a senior’s personal order right to their door.
- Fitness monitors: Fitbit and MyFitnessPal monitor blood pressure and count exercise steps.
- Butler on call: Hello Alfred handles errands.
- Medication management: Medisafe and CareZone ensure seniors take the right meds, and remind them about upcoming doctors’ appointments.
- GPS: Google Maps and smart car GPS technology make navigating a breeze — and keep seniors from getting lost.
In fact, older adults can serve as engines of everyday innovation, say researchers at Penn State’s Institute for CyberScience, utilizing their knowledge and creativity to improve their communities.
In one of the most positive perspectives put forth on aging and technology, John Carroll, distinguished professor of information sciences and technology, says of a recent university study, “The idea behind the project is how we can reframe old age as a time when people can contribute and have capacity and are valuable and creative.”
A San Francisco non-profit is putting this type of research into practice with Tech Allies, a program that provides low-cost internet, tablets, and digital training to San Francisco seniors. One of the great benefits, besides teaching elders how to use technology? Friendships form among volunteers and seniors, alleviating loneliness and strengthening social bonds.
How Senior Living Makes Tech Senior Friendly
Here at The Kensington White Plains, we understand how important it is for our residents to stay up to date. Knowing how to use Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to video chat with one’s grandchildren, or photo share on Facebook or Instagram, helps keep your senior loved one active and engaged.
In addition, learning these new skills sharpens memory and keeps older brains healthy. We offer tech training as part of our Life Enrichment program, and most senior centers offer some type of technology training as well.