With more computing power than carried on the first moon mission, our cell phones – smartphones in particular – give us the ability to perform many functions beyond simply making phone calls. In fact, many are capable of making phone calls without using the phone system.
Most of us utilize the capabilities our phones give us to make them an indispensable part of our lives. You might feel we’ve become too reliant on them.
That’s not true of most of our senior loved ones, at least according to a recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Seniors Lagging in Most Cell Phone Uses
When it comes to most of the common uses (common today, at least) for our cell phones, seniors are lagging far behind the population in general.
- Picture taking – With our smart phones taking the place of carrying a camera for many of us, it isn’t surprising that 82% of cell phone users say they use them to take pictures. Only 44% of senior cell phone owners report doing so – and that’s by far the closest seniors get to the rest of the population.
- Texting – Certainly another popular phone activity, done by 4 out of 5 cell phone users – – but only one third of seniors choose to communicate in this way.
- Internet access – Use of our smart phones to access the web is growing rapidly, with 56% doing so, a value that has doubled in the last four years. Only 13% of seniors connect to the internet in this way, though.
- Email – Half of us email with our phones now, part of what keeps too many of us tethered to the office way too much. Seniors are much less active with email on their phones, with 12% reporting use of that application.
- Using apps – Speaking of applications, or apps, seniors are only one fifth as likely to use their phones to download apps, with 8% doing so vs. 43% of the total population.
- Banking – Nearly 30% of Americans check bank account information, or more, with their phones while only 7% of seniors do so.
Why Seniors’ Phone Use is Different
The Pew study didn’t get into why seniors are far less likely to use their cell phones for purposes other than making calls, but we encounter a few reasons when talking with older adults – some of which can be addressed by family caregivers. Note that these reasons can apply to younger people as well.
- Their phone doesn’t perform those functions. Many people have the same phone they’ve used for years or choose new phones without the bells and whistles many of us take for granted. For some it might be just a matter of showing them what they’re missing by not getting a phone that gives them the ability to accomplish much more.
- They don’t know how to use their phones for these functions. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing someone what a new phone can do. Many are getting smartphones because that’s what their providers give them when it’s time to get a new phone, but no one takes the time to explain what the phones can do. That’s something most of us could address with senior loved ones.
- Some just don’t want to do more with their phones. We’ve talked with and heard about some who want to use their phones to make calls, cameras to take pictures, etc.
Why Seniors’ Phone Use Matters
You might wonder about our purpose in quoting statistics about cell phone usage and why we feel it matters enough to dedicate a post to the information. There are a number of ways we think family caregivers can use the information to help seniors. Here are a couple of key benefits.
- If our senior loved ones could benefit from getting greater use from their cell phones, especially if they have smartphones, this is yet another way we can help them make their lives better. Our phones link us to our communities and the world in so many ways beyond simple voice calls – – which can be a real asset to seniors who might otherwise be living in isolation while aging in place.
- Smartphones are not the best fit for everyone, especially if they really don’t want to use their phone for more than making phone calls. If your senior is among those and just wants a phone to make phone calls, a gift of a smartphone might only complicate their life needlessly (and cause you to spend money needlessly) because they take extra steps and are inconvenient when making or receiving calls. We might also want to make sure they don’t get a smartphone pushed on them when getting a new phone, especially since they would likely also be saddled with a costly data plan they won’t use and thus don’t need.
Technology is great, but only if it helps make our lives better. If it’s technology we won’t use, more advanced technology isn’t necessarily better. Of course, if our senior loved ones can’t use it but want to do so, we as family caregivers have an opportunity to help them learn.