Barriers to Senior Technology Adoption Include Family Caregivers

Technology means more than entertainment to our senior loved ones — it can mean their independence.

But they have to be using it!

There are more and more seniors adopting technology. But it is enough and could it be more?

We can see it everywhere we go. Seniors on smartphones, reading books on their e-readers, and using their tablets for all kinds of things.

Laptop computers continue to be used for streaming media, web surfing, data storage, word processing and connecting to family and friends.

We know there are benefits for our seniors when using technology and also for family caregivers to provide the best possible care for our senior loved ones without as much time required.

How can we connect our seniors and train them to use technology and, more importantly, what stops us from making that connection?

Technology Adoption Barriers

A recent study conducted by Philips and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business has found that there may be unexpected barriers to our seniors using the latest technology.

They found that non-professional caregivers may be unintentionally blocking seniors from adoption of technology that could help.

These same caregivers state they realize how important technology could be in the life of their seniors but are still not helping them connect.

  • 44% said they are concerned that their senior is depressed or lonely and know enrichment activities including social interaction is important
  • 62% said social interaction enrichment is a top priority
  • 67% report that their senior has participated in no new activity in the last two years
  • These same 67% said their seniors get socialization via talking on telephone or watching TV
  • 63% felt their senior is open to using new technology
  • 74% said they found it extremely fun to teach a senior a new technology and 72% felt capable of teaching new tech to seniors

Why the dichotomy between knowing that they need it, would like it, can share it and are actually using it?

Difficulty Making Time for Tech

Surprise – not having enough time is the factor most cited by family caregivers for lack of tech adoption by their seniors.

Study participants felt they didn’t have time between caregiving duties and personal duties, often including a job.

Many family caregivers indicated they would rather spend their limited time with their own families or personal relaxation and entertainment than more time with their seniors outside of caregiving tasks, even knowing that time spent on technology could reduce caregiving task time in the long run.

Many say if they saved time with technology they would spend it doing something other than more senior caregiving such as personal errands.

Many caregivers are looking at technology and may be seeing it as more practical, such as that in the health and safety realm, instead of as a social connections and boredom/depression relief. The reality is that both are important to the independence of their senior loved ones.

The researchers hope that helping caregivers understand that technology can enrich seniors’ quality of life during aging, not just keep them safe at home, will get more seniors connected.

Technology That Means Independence

Innovations in technology that are useful for our senior loved ones are expanding rapidly. What started out with home monitoring in case they fall has grown to all aspects of medical care, socialization and entertainment.

Many seniors could use a little help from family caregivers to connect to devices and apps that will make their lives not only safer but more enjoyable.

Here are some ideas for tech that may be already available or coming soon.

  1. Connecting via the internet to events and classes at the senior center. This will keep your senior connected to their peers doing activities that are age appropriate and engaging for them from their own home. No need to arrange transportation over long distances when the nearest senior center is far away. It can reduce isolation for many homebound seniors.
  2. Contact lenses that measure blood glucose levels. This can help seniors and their healthcare team be aware of daily values to manage diabetes better, reduce need for emergency treatment and engage senior with health team.
  3. Canes for visually impaired people that can send an alert when a familiar, known person comes near using facial recognition. This would definitely help seniors who are at events, community locations, church services stay in touch even if their vision impairment may keep them isolated.
  4. Pill bottles for prescription medications that light up or send audible alerts when medications need to be taken or when missed dosage. They can help seniors take the medications they need without errors to stay healthy.
  5. Use an app when you are physically active that earns money for a chosen charity for every action you take. Connect with for details. Seniors who are physically active can do good work for others as they age and it may motivate seniors to get moving.
  6. Watches that can track not only steps taken and sleep quality, but also blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate and other health metrics can help them be in charge of their health.
  7. Body sensors that track heart rate especially during physical activity, ECG electrocardiogram sensors using a smartphone that records heart activity at 30 second intervals is being used to detect atrial fibrillation so that doctors can tailor treatment more effectively.
  8. Robot caregivers continue on the development path and many are out there, now performing specific functions such as companionship and assisting with reminders for medications and meals. A new model called Robear from Japan is transferring people by helping them stand, sit or even lifting out of bed. They aren’t intended to replace family caregivers but rather augment daily tasks.
  9. Apps for smartphones that alert family members to how seniors are doing, what they might be doing, and managing their health needs. Caregivers can organize the care of their seniors, keep all the family near and far in the loop with the latest information and connect with members of the healthcare team. New apps are introduced daily so if you haven’t found one you like yet, keep looking as updates come to market frequently. Helps seniors and caregivers meet needs with time leftover for socialization.
  10. Remote doctor visits via a tablet or computer screen. Video conferencing with healthcare team and family loved ones using a variety of tools such as Skype, FaceTime and secure internet connections.

Connection Means Independence

These are just some examples of technology that can keep our seniors engaged in the family, community and with their healthcare team.

This can prevent feeling lonely and isolated for many seniors.

That means our senior loved ones will be able to live independently longer, if that’s what they want.

Quality of life not just quantity is the goal for seniors and their family caregivers.

If you don’t have time to help them get connected perhaps you can ask someone you know to volunteer their time to help set your senior up and start using technology to their advantage. There are also classes offered in many communities.

Remember, technology can’t help us if we don’t use it!

2 thoughts on “Barriers to Senior Technology Adoption Include Family Caregivers”

  1. I think that the wealthier and better educated “baby boomers” use the internet for Facebook, email and purchases because they have always had computers in the home and at work, and have no fear of them.

    On the other hand, I know quite a few sixty somethings who, in spite of having worked on computers in the past, get little further than email. They fear putting any of their details out there, and also fear somehow “breaking” the computer, forgetting the password or otherwise failing to master the technology, and therefore prefer not to try.

    There is a large group of people 70+ who could benefit from connecting and I think the best way to reach them is through younger people. One of the biggest barriers is cost – older people do not want to lay out a large sum of money for a tablet or phone if they are not confident that it will be useful to them. For this reason, youngsters should consider giving their old phone or tablet to their older relatives. As youngsters love to show off their knowledge, they can be the first ones to connect with their older relative, demonstrating to them that they are cared about and that family want to stay in touch with them. It only takes one connection to let the older person see the benefit.
    For older people who have no family to encourage them, the barriers are greater – fear of the unknown leaves them in danger of losing out completely but I think that young people can have a role in reaching out to this group.

    • Exactly Maddy,
      We all need to help seniors of any age use technology so that it can help them the most. There are a variety of sources that can teach or even provide gently used devices. Family members should be encouraged to help their seniors especially younger people.
      We wish you luck connecting!

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