Modern technology has a lot to offer seniors. The right piece of electronics or a smartly designed app can make their lives safer, more connected, and more independent. However, not ever older adult sees today’s tech in that light.
You’ve probably heard the stereotype that seniors struggle with and reject modern devices. This stereotype sticks around for a reason. For a fairly large minority of seniors, it’s true. The Pew Research Center finds that 34% of Americans over 65 are not confident that they can operate electronic devices for online activities. That’s right, one in three seniors have a shaky grasp on using modern technology to their advantage.
This trend was a problem twenty years ago even as the wearable gadgets such as life alert systems came into place, and has only grown worse as the technology around senior health care has grown. Nowadays, most businesses and service providers are making technology a core part of their business model.
Who Is Struggling To Learn This New Technology?
One-third of the elderly population has fallen behind the tech curve. However, there are three distinct groups of people making up that figure.
One group is tech-averse for a variety of reasons. Some of these seniors dislike how social media has changed the way people interact. Others may have been victims of online scams and are now gun-shy to engage again. Certain people struggled with tech for a long time and, after repeated and embarrassing failures, soured to the whole experience. This group will actively resist new tech, preferring to try any other option first.
Next, there are the tech-neutral seniors. Some people are simply content with older-fashioned ways of interacting with the world. They meet their daily needs through flip phones, printed newspapers, and physically visiting friends, doctors, etc. These seniors may pick up the bare minimum of handling modern devices. However, they have no intrinsic motivation to go further.
The final part of this population includes people who would love to embrace what tech can do for them. They see great value in online banking, telehealth, video calls to distant family members, booking food deliveries and rides, and so on. However, they can struggle to operate the device or get overwhelmed with options. Some may not get past the initial set-up.
Seniors who struggle in these areas have a lot of company. The same Pew Research study touched on earlier notes that 73% of seniors report needing help setting up and learning to use each new device. The usual advice here is to turn to friends and family for assistance. However, these helpers won’t necessarily know the intricacies of healthcare portal apps or the latest piece of tech. This leaves seniors scrambling for other options.
Bridging the Tech Gap
What can be done for seniors who have fallen behind, tech-wise? Some people are likely to always struggle. The ones who eventually master the tech may find useful support through setup services, tech literacy programs, and choosing senior-friendly devices and apps.
Device manufacturers could help less tech-savvy seniors by creating clear, straightforward setup guides. Ideally these guides would be offered in several formats, giving a choice between a how-to video or a webpage with instructional photos.
Certain device vendors have departments that offer more human assistance, such as Best Buy, Apple and Walmart. Seniors may also be able to find help at a community education center, local libraries, or a senior center. Some urgent care clinics, already popular for their convenience, are also offering telehealth services to bring their healthcare into the senior's home.
Even after a new device is set up, the bigger challenge is often the day-to-day operations. Seniors may struggle with tech literacy, not knowing the words for what they’re trying to troubleshoot, which will frustrate their efforts to get help.
Help may be available through training programs such as the webinars offered by AARP. The Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) organization offers free computer classes through their Senior Planet program.
SeniorNet is a nonprofit organization that provides digital tech operation courses. And Senior Connects, a program by Net Literacy, focuses on digital inclusion at senior centers and assisted or independent living facilities.
Sometimes seniors know what to do with their devices but struggle to get the technology to work for them. Some optimization tips include keeping laptop or phone home screens clear of clutter, with the most vital apps front and center.
Looking for programs with simplified menus that lay out options in clear language, apps with easy toggles for larger text and icons, and even voice control integration provides some of the answers. And using devices and cases that are easy to grip, perhaps with wrist straps, or substituting a mouse and keyboard for senior with hand tremors, dry skin, or other impediments to using a touch screen.
Today’s and tomorrow’s tech has the potential to empower seniors, keeping them safe, independent, and connected to loved ones and important services. Many helping services are working to make sure that modern tech is empowering and not disempowering - and this is still a work in progress.
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