Digital technology and the web are already improving life for seniors living independently and there is much more to come.
In order to realize many of the benefits tech has to offer, however, seniors have to be using connected devices. That’s why Senior Care Corner® has long advocated that family caregivers urge their senior loved ones using smartphones, tablets, the web, and social networking apps.
A recent report from Pew Research, Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults, tells us much progress has been made but also that there is much left to do, especially for family caregivers of older seniors.
We’ll take a look at some of the facts from the Pew report and then discuss how caregivers can address some of the challenges that remain.
Seniors Bridging Digital Gap
After hearing and reading for years that seniors simply won’t adopt smartphones and other connected devices or become active uses of the internet, it’s great to see seniors putting that thinking to rest.
While our own experiences with family and community told us it could happen, we’re thrilled to see it confirmed by Pew.
Would it be a surprise to hear that 21% of seniors prefer to be early adopters of technology?
These are some of the key results of their surveys:
- 67% of seniors are internet users, including 82% of those from 65 to 69
- Three fourths of senior internet users report going online at least once per day, with the majority doing so several times daily
- 42% of all seniors have smartphones, a significant increase from the 18% who reported doing so in 2013; 91% of those report going online at least daily
- One third of seniors use tablets (such as Apple’s iPad or the Amazon Fire)
- The one third of seniors reporting they use social media are half the level of all adults
While the increases reflected in those results are encouraging for the future of aging in place, there are some large gaps between the results for younger and older seniors. That is especially important today, since older seniors are the fastest growing segment of the US population.
- Smartphone usage among those 75 and older is barely half those of the youngest seniors, as is tablet usage
- Seniors who are 75 and older, those most likely to be isolated if living independently, are less than half as likely as younger seniors to use social media
The gaps that exist for the oldest seniors is one of the biggest challenges to overcome for family caregivers.
While there have been advances in technology usage by seniors, there are barriers reported that affect even tech users.
Barriers to Senior Tech and Web Usage
We have long discussed that many seniors have physical limitations, some age related and others due to health issues, that impact their ability to use digital devices.
Fortunately, there are a number of devices tailored to those seniors. Even more encouraging is that even developers of mainstream devices address usability concerns to make their devices practical for many seniors.
There are other factors we need to address in getting our senior loved ones to use tech and the web.
For example, three fourths of seniors using the web indicated they are less than very confident when using digital devices, with one third saying they have little or no confidence in doing so.
Something we have long recognized is that seniors are more likely than younger adults to need help using their new digital devices. Three out of four admitted to Pew that applies to them.
That’s a role many family caregivers fill and an opportunity for others to do so.
Rising to the Challenge to Benefit Seniors
Family caregivers have played a role in the adoption of technology by many seniors and can help bridge the gaps for even more.
We have found may family members who doubted their senior loved ones would use a smartphone and the web turned into believers after rising to the challenge and introducing technology to their seniors.
The first step is the device itself. While some family caregivers simply purchase a smartphone or tablet for their senior loved one, involving them in the selection can be a first step in building their confidence with using it.
When choosing the right device, consider whether your senior’s needs or interests make a device tailored for seniors a good choice.
Another consideration could be the devices used by the senior’s family and friends. It may be easiest to learn to use a smartphone or tablet when others have experience with the same device and can offer tips.
Once our senior loved ones have a device, the role of family caregivers is just beginning. Just having the device doesn’t ensure they’ll benefit, of course, so initial startup is a key aspect of support.
If this is their first smartphone, for example, they may need some help with basic setup (don’t forget security), choosing the right apps, and a little hands-on training.
It’s also important to establish up front where the senior will turn for help when they have a question or run into an issue, as we don’t want frustration to drive them to toss the device in a drawer. It might be a neighbor or distant family member who can respond with the right answer when needed, or even a friendly, knowledgeable staffer down at the mobile provider’s store where the device was purchased.
Having and know how to use technology is essential, but we can’t overlook the importance of fast, reliable access to the web for our senior loved ones. Seniors recognize that as well, with 9 out of 10 telling Pew they view having high-speed internet access at home as either important or essential.
Family caregivers can help senior loved ones evaluate and select the right high-speed access for their needs and budget. Budget is important, too, since internet access is only useful if affordable.
As many younger adults have found, the best high-speed answer may be wireless via the mobile provider. Here it pays to shop, as there are many plans from different providers. In addition, it may make sense to add senior loved ones to a family plan along with family caregivers.
Keep the Numbers Growing
Each year’s visit to CES® demonstrates to us the meaning technology will have to seniors in the future, especially those living independently at home.
In order for that technology to help our senior loved ones, though, it has to be something they choose to allow in their homes and actually use.
That means the effort we put in today to get our seniors using digital devices and the web is likely to pay dividends over the rest of their lives.
Let’s ensure our senior loved ones are among the numbers of those who will receive the health, safety, and comfort benefits promised by technology!