Seniors and Technology — Are They Ready for Each Other?

Are seniors and technology ready for each other?

Yes . . . and no.

We often hear that older adults just won’t warm up to and adopt technology and that the technology companies are not developing products and solutions to meet the needs of seniors.

Both statements are overly broad generalizations that ignore reality, like many stereotypes. They are also becoming further from the truth every day.

The statements do a great disservice to seniors and their family caregivers (tech companies will do fine without us defending them).

The question of seniors and technology is important for both, so we will address it in more depth.

Seniors are Individuals, Not a Homogeneous Group

I don’t like it when I hear or read “seniors won’t do” this or “seniors don’t want” that because it implies seniors are of like mind, with similar interests and needs. I know most people don’t realize that is true, but too many people in positions to meet the needs and solve the problems of older adults feel that way, or at least act as if they do.

There are more than 50 million ‘seniors’ in the US, ranging in age from 65 to over 100 years old. Among them are, according to Census Bureau numbers, more than 6 million people who are least 85 and more than 80,000 who are 100 or older.

Not only do they have a broad range of ages, each senior has needs, interests, living situations, problems, and more factors makes her or him unique.

As with other age groups and the population in general, older adults can be grouped into segments with similar characteristics, many shared with individuals in other age groups in addition to seniors.

Calling someone a senior, older adult, or whatever label and categorizing them based on that label treats them as an age, even if age has no real impact on what an individual is seeking to accomplish. For example, saying “she is a senior so she won’t use a smartphone” does both the senior and the person doing the categorizing a disservice.

We have seen more eyes opening to this in the last few years but there are many more to go.

Importance of Technology to Seniors

Regular followers of Senior Care Corner® know we discuss what we see as the growing importance of technology to older adults, including providing specific examples.

These are just a sample of the articles that Senior Care Corner has created to show the benefits of technology for seniors, some of what you will find if you search for ‘technology’ on our website.

The wishes of older adults and two realities are together driving the tremendous potential benefit for seniors from the adoption of technology, both current technology and that to come.

Seniors — and future seniors — are increasingly expressing a desire to age in place independently in the home of their choice rather than in a senior living facility or with family. When you combine that desire with the facts (1) more Americans are living to older ages that ever before and (2) there will be fewer and fewer younger people to care for the growing number of seniors, we NEED technology to fill the gaps.

We see technology doing more than filling the gaps, though, as we foresee innovations playing a big role in the ability of seniors to not just live longer, but for the longer lives to be healthier, safer, and filled with more enjoyment than was possible for prior generations.

Importance of Seniors to the Tech World

Right now, 1 in 5 adults (18 or older) in the US is a senior. That is projected to be 1 in 4 before 2030.

If you are a technology company — or in most other industries — ruling 25% of the adult population out of your target market simply because of a number that may have no impact on their need or desire for a product really makes no sense.

We have seen many reasons to be comfortable that seniors of all ages are ready, willing, able — and anxious — to try out and use technology innovations that will help make their lives better.

To be fair, at CES® and elsewhere we have seen much evidence of late that many in the tech industry get it, but not nearly all yet.

The understanding of seniors would be aided if there was more research that looked at age segments within the 65+ population rather than grouping this wide-ranging group into one 40+ year bucket.

This goes to the Consumer Technology Association itself. Some of the best research we have seen comes from this trade association for the consumer technology industry, but even their annual study on tech ownership and purchase intentions lumps all seniors with a lot of future seniors into a 55+ bucket.

Yes, there is more work to be done for the tech world.

Seniors & Technology ARE Ready for Each Other

We have seen many signs older adults and the tech industry are ready for each other, even if they don’t realize it or even think about it.

Despite still hearing some say seniors won’t even adopt smartphones, the foundation upon which much of the technology from which they will benefit will be built, we see and hear of those in their 80’s and even 90’s using smartphones and tablets regularly. It has become routine from many to text, video chat, read, take pictures, watch video, listen to music, and play games on these devices, just like their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

That is just the beginning of “ready.” These are but a handful of the reasons we go beyond that in saying seniors are ready for tech:

  • While many of all ages are currently both anxious for and wary of autonomous cars, seniors are in the age group with the most to gain from this technology when it is ready. When the independence mobility provides no longer depends on being able to drive oneself, a gap that currently holds back many older adults will be bridged.
  • Healthcare may be the industry most in need of the revolution technology will (yes, will) provide and seniors are the biggest customers of that industry. The ability to get much of the routine care they need in the comfort of home — without having to travel to a provider’s office and sit patiently in waiting rooms for 5 minute visits — will be most welcome.
  • The security of knowing (and family caregivers knowing) help is available quickly when it is needed without feeling open to privacy invading questions like “why didn’t you go to the bathroom this morning” or even “who was that spending the night with you” is something for which many aging in place seniors are ready.
  • While thankful for the assistance they receive from family caregivers, many seniors feel guilty their loved ones have to spend so much of their lives providing care. Technology that enables family members to fill their caregiving roles without dedicating so much of their lives to those roles will be appreciated by seniors.

And the technology companies? Whether they have considered it or not, much of the technology in the above list is/was not developed for older adults, but for the population in general. Well, in reality, much we have seen, at least until fairly recently, was developed with the needs of younger people in mind. Seniors still get the benefits, though, and that is what’s important.

Bringing Seniors and Technology Together

There is no big secret involved in bringing seniors and technology together. What’s needed?

  1. Develop technology products that provide meaningful benefits to older adults.
  2. Let seniors see those benefits for themselves.

The key word in both of those points is “benefits.” So often, especially in technology, what we hear discussed are the features.

Don’t tell us a device has low latency, interoperability, or Bluetooth low energy. Rather, that our data will be transferred to our healthcare provider instantaneously, that we can control your device with the same home equipment and smartphone app we already use, and we can maintain connection as we move around the house.

How do tech companies determine what benefits seniors need? They ask!

We have noted a growing number of companies including seniors in their development processes. It can’t be just for show, though, and should include seniors with a range of tech interest and aptitude, as is typically done with other age groups.

We were dismayed when we heard at one meeting that a tech company was including in their process a senior who seemed anti-technology. They didn’t say if other seniors were also included, but we hoped so, as we would hate to see products beneficial to many seniors left on the drawing board because they didn’t pass this one tech skeptic’s filter.

Don’t Overlook the Roles of Family Caregivers

As technology companies are considering their approach to seniors, they are shortchanging themselves — and seniors — if they don’t consider the roles of family caregivers in the process.

While the roles vary with different seniors and family caregivers, in many cases the family members are involved in the selection or even purchase of technology. For many seniors they may have a good feel, based on experience, what their senior loved one will adopt and what would simply go in a drawer, unused.

Family caregivers are often “tech support” for seniors, even if located a distance away, so they want to be comfortable with any technology they recommended or purchase for their loved one.

As family caregivers, we will do whatever we can to help our seniors enjoy lives that are more healthy, safe, and happy.

Bringing seniors and technology together will help us do that.