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Seniors and Technology- Embracing the Digital Age

By | 2017-10-31T16:31:12+00:00 April 9th, 2016|

This video of two older adults trying to figure out their computer's webcam was an internet sensation a few years ago. It's a charming and funny video, but it also highlights the growing popularity of technology among seniors.

There are numerous benefits when seniors and technology come together, but the learning curve of how to use the latest gadgets can sometimes be challenging. 

Seniors see advantages to keeping up with technology

While seniors are generally considered “late adopters” for most technology, more and more older people are beginning to embrace the digital age. According to Pew Research, almost 60% of American seniors over age 65 are now online, a number that is increasing rapidly each year.

Another recent study by Pew Research on older Americans' use of technology reveals several interesting trends about how many seniors are using the latest gadgets and tools. A few of the perks seniors experience with their technology usage:

  • Having access to a computer and the internet allows older adults to keep up-to-date on news and current events, play brain-stimulating games (my own mother loves Words with Friends), and research the latest information on topics from medical conditions to travel to healthy recipes.
  • Email and social media sites like Facebook help seniors stay in touch with each other as well as family; in fact, over a quarter of seniors are utilizing these sites, according to Pew.
  • Tools like Skype and Apple's FaceTime allow seniors to actually see friends and loved ones who may live far away.
  • Highly portable tablets (like iPads) and e-books (like Kindles) are increasingly popular with the older set and can be helpful for aging eyes as a book's text is brighter and can be magnified if needed.
  • Smartphones are a convenient way for seniors to stay connected via voice, email, or text. And more and more seniors are trading in their old flip-phones for a new smartphone.
  • Some cutting edge seniors are cutting the cord. In millennial language that means dropping cable in exchange for services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV. See page 3: “Are You Ready to Ditch the Cable?” 

Bridging the technology generation gap

It's apparent that a growing number of older adults are ready and willing to jump on the technology bandwagon. But as evidenced in the earlier viral video of the grandparents trying to video chat, learning how to use computers and smartphones isn't always second-nature to seniors. Some find it intimidating or just plain frustrating. Others are eager to learn how to use the devices but are concerned about the associated costs.

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also known as a life plan communities) across the country have noted this trend of increasingly tech-savvy seniors…or at least seniors who would like to become more comfortable with technology. As a result, these communities are exploring creative new ways to meet their residents' desire for greater connectivity.

Wi-Fi access: More and more retirement communities are providing residents with high-speed wireless internet service (also known as Wi-Fi), which allows seniors to get online no matter where they are within the facility. It is also important to note that high-speed internet is a necessity for video chatting (such as Skype or FaceTime), a popular activity for seniors who live far from loved ones.

Educational classes: Teach a person to fish and they will eat for life–some CCRCs provide residents with training sessions on how to use digital devices like tablets and smartphones, how to use social sites like Facebook, or how to Skype or FaceTime with a grandchild. In fact, I was speaking at a CCRC recently where a class on this topic was being led by a resident of the community who had taken it upon himself to learn about this topic. 

Students from local high schools or colleges are also volunteering their time at certain retirement centers to teach residents about the latest online tools; it's a great opportunity for intergenerational learning!

                >> Related: Common Ground: Intergenerational Programs Benefit Both Children & Older Adults

Shared & refurbished devices: Cognizant of the expense involved in purchasing these techie devices, some CCRCs offer access to communal tablets, which residents can “check out” for a certain period of time. Another great option for seniors who want to dip their toe in the technology pool is to purchase a refurbished model. Since technology changes so rapidly (Apple releases updated products almost every year), you can easily find a gently used device for a fraction of the cost of a new one.

Getting seniors wired

Staying in touch with friends and loved ones is beneficial to the mental health of seniors, and with today's digital devices, it is easier than ever to keep connected. If you live in a CCRC and are interested in learning how to use the latest technology, check with your programs director to see if training classes are offered or could be formed. Intro to technology classes are also offered by some public libraries, senior centers, or community colleges. 

About the Author:

Brad Breeding is president and co-founder of myLifeSite, a North Carolina company that develops web-based resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or lifecare community.