Technology Adoption by Older Adults Growing, CEA Study Finds

Technology will make it possible for seniors to live independently longer, more safely and in better health than is possible today.

That’s key as our population continues to age.

But the degree to which they will benefit depends on seniors making technology a fundamental part of their lives, much as younger adults do today.

You’ve heard the Senior Care Corner® team say that a number of times before — and you’ll hear it again and again — because we’ve gotten glimpses of coming innovations and can envision what they will mean to our senior loved ones.

And to us as family caregivers of our seniors.

Not to mention what they’ll mean to us when we are seniors ourselves.

Because we believe that, it is encouraging to see statistics indicating adoption of technology by older adults is growing — though there is still work family caregivers can do to encourage tech use by senior loved ones.

Consumer Electronics Association Study

Each year the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the producers of the International CES, publishes their Annual CE Ownership and Market Potential Study to help those in the technology business understand the marketplace.

We have been members of CEA for several years, in large part to have access to their excellent research. We don’t use it for market purposes but to better understand and report on the technology opportunities and challenges for family caregivers in making the lives of senior loved ones better.

We wish they would study seniors as an age group, maybe even more than one age group, in more of their research, but understand their age groups are more reflective of what is considered in marketing decisions by the tech industry. Still, we find their results informative.

This year’s CE Ownership and Market Potential Study reflects continued adoption by older adults (55+ years old) of more technology, but adoption that still lags that of younger adults and thus represents opportunity for family caregivers.

Older Adults’ Technology Use Growing

This year’s CEA study reflects that the adoption of what we see as key technologies by older adults is growing, though still lags that of younger adults. Because technology will be even more critical to seniors’ lives than most young adults, we are hoping to see those gaps closed and even reversed someday.

CEA looks at a broad range of technology and reports statistics on much we see as less important to seniors’ independence, such as headphones, digital cameras and bluetooth speakers. Our look here will focus on statistics we see as more key to the lives of seniors aging in place independently in the future.

According to the CEA study:

  • Almost half of older adults own smartphones, more than double the penetration in just four years but still just 2/3 of the overall smartphone ownership.
  • Three out of five older adults still own cellphones that are not smartphones. While this is 50% more than the overall population, the number has been steadily falling with the rise in smartphone ownership.
  • More than one in three older adults owns a smart (internet-connected) television, representing continued growth.
  • Tablet ownership by the age group is growing toward half, triple that of just four years ago, but still represents much opportunity to learn the benefits of this important technology.
  • The homes of most older adults have a desktop computer, notebook computer, or both, which is close to being in parity with the overall population.
  • 28% of older adults reporting having a dedicated ereader, such as a Kindle or Nook, less than the one third of the overall population. We see this as a positive, though, since more older adults are adopting multi-use devices such as tablets.

We see growth reported in the study as positive and an indication many seniors and other older adults are embracing technology. Still, there is much room for growth.

Technology Intentions Important Too

In addition to looking at the current ownership statistics reported in the CEA study, we like to look at the intentions expressed by older adults as well, seeing these as indicative of sentiment about technology and future senior adoption.

Intentions statistics reflect the future purchase expectations of respondents, whether they own the device type already or have not purchased one.

  • While less than half reported they would never by a new smartphone, the lowest value yet, we still see these 43% of older adults part of the challenge in putting our senior loved ones in a position to take advantage of the technology that will mean so much to their lives in the future.
  • Just under half said they didn’t expect to buy a new tablet, about a third more than the overall population.
  • 45% of older adults indicated they did not expect to purchase a new smart TV in the future, the first time more have said they expect to purchase one (or another one). While maybe not as important as smartphones and tablets, smart TVs present a convenient means of connecting to the outside world, especially for those with vision challenges.

One of the challenges we see in the intentions statistics is in family caregivers helping senior loved ones stay current with technology. While they think they already own a smartphone or tablet, for example, so won’t need a new one, we know technology becomes obsolete and unsupported quickly. That means today’s devices might not be compatible with much of the innovation that will help keep seniors safer and healthier.

Many Still Not Connected to the Web

One of the biggest challenges we see in the CEA study is the report by almost one quarter of older adults who indicated they don’t have internet access at home. This was double the overall population.

One of the primary benefits to seniors of smartphones and tablets is the link they provide to the web and thus the rest of the world. The lack of internet access in their homes will make independent living more of a challenge to many seniors.

When being connected to the web means having a link to family, friends, healthcare providers and other caregivers, and the rest of the community around them, lack of internet connectivity can leave seniors isolated and dependent on others for transportation to care that could be provided remotely via the web.

Not having an internet connection can also mean the difference between living at home and having to move into a senior living facility for some seniors — and even more in the future. Today it can mean not being connected to communications that let family members and caregivers know the senior is safe at home.

Soon not having an internet connection will mean not having a link the healthcare team can use to monitor vital signs, perform tests and consult with your senior loved one. Lacking that link can keep your senior from getting the remote care that lets her continue living at home.

We see that quarter without internet access at home a challenge to be met by family caregivers and the community at large. Let’s ensure our seniors have the opportunity to connect to the care they need and the world around them.

Challenges for Industry and Family Caregivers

We at Senior Care Corner® see bridging the gaps between seniors and technology as a challenge for both family caregivers and the tech industry.

Family caregivers can do a lot to introduce senior loved ones to technology and show them how to make use of it, which has and will continue to be very important to seniors’ technology adoption, as we’ve seen firsthand and heard from many others.

Much can be done by the technology innovators and marketers to tailor both devices and promotions to older adults. Yes, devices have become more friendly to those with vision challenges and diminished dexterity, but improvements should continue. Just as importantly, though, packaging and promotion of tech can focus on the priorities of seniors and the benefits of the devices to those who are older.

We appreciate the ability to access and report on CEA’s research and look forward to reporting on much more over the rest of the year. Even more, though, we look forward to the promise of CES 2016 and the innovation about which we will learn there.