Thinking Holiday Gifts for Seniors – Think of Tech They Wouldn’t Get Themselves

“Noooo, it’s too early to be thinking about that already” is the reaction we expect to hear from many of you. The challenge of what gifts to get senior loved ones for the holidays — or anytime — stumps many of us.

We just don’t know what they want!

Why not get something they wouldn’t think to get themselves — something they might even tell you NOT to get them.

Many technology products fall into this category, including many you might think your senior loved ones would really enjoy if only they had a chance to try them.

CEA Ownership & Market Potential Study

Few would be surprised to hear that seniors lag the rest of the US population in their ownership of technology devices. That’s largely confirmed by the 15th Annual CE Ownership and Market Potential Study, a research report from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) we look forward to reading each year. CEA is the producer of the International CES, the annual gathering of those who shape the future and an annual calendar fixture for Senior Care Corner.

One note about the study data before we dive into some of what it tells us. While we wish they would publish statistics about seniors, they lump the over-65 group into an age category we’ll call “older adults,” those 55 and beyond. Seniors, or those 65 and older, make up just over half of the responses in the older adult category of this year’s study.

While there is no indication, of course, how seniors’ responses impacted the age group stats, it’s probably fair to say their numbers would be lower than the younger members of the older adult category for most items.

Now onto the study results…

Older Adults & Entertainment Tech

Seen a tech gift you just KNOW one of the seniors in your life would love if only they tried it? If it’s anything cutting edge, they probably won’t get it for themselves, but they’re not alone. Most Americans say they won’t buy a new tech item at least until it’s commonplace, with many saying they won’t go for it until the traditional alternative is no longer available.

Commonplace is what you would call HDTVs, which is reflected in the more than 70% of older adults and all American’s who report having at least one, and in most cases more than one, in their household. Other than standard DVD players, which about two thirds of both older adults and all respondents reporting owning, and 3D TVs, with ownership at less than one in ten, older adults lag the rest of the age groups in ownership of what we would call entertainment technology.

There are several items where older adults lag that you might not see as the right gifts unless you know your senior loved one will make use of them. This includes such tech as digital cameras, blu ray players and digital media players (think Roku or Apple TV).

What about mp3 players, such as iPods? Think your senior loved one would use one if showed what they could really do with it? Many are finding it’s a great way to bring back memories of their youth with much of the times. Less than one in four older adults (even fewer seniors?) own one, compared with more than half of overall study participants. Only one third of older adults expect to ever own one, so if you think your senior would really enjoy an mp3 player it might be up to you to get it for them.

Computing Devices & Older Adults

Ownership of computing devices by older adults is up significantly over that reported in the 2012 report, which is a good sign in an area where we advocate getting senior loved ones active. Among the many ways seniors, especially, can benefit from computers and tablets is getting connected to social media sites and thus the world around them. It’s great to see this area growing so much.

While there is growth, older adults still lag other age groups significantly in ownership of computing devices — which means there is opportunity for family members to get loved ones connected. Beyond desktop computers (yes, those are still sold), where ownership by older adults nearly matches that of the overall population at six in ten, less than half of older adults’ households have computers or like technology. Almost half have laptops, which is promising, but only one in four report ownership of tablets and e-readers.

Think your senior loved one could benefit from a tablet or e-reader? If so, there’s a possible gift idea, as less than half of older adults expect to ever own them.

Smartphones Not Yet Popular with Older Adults

It looks like a number of older adults have swapped out their regular cellphones for smartphones since the prior study, but only three in ten of them still have a smartphone. When you consider that many in this age group are still employed and may have smartphones for work, the smartphone ownership by seniors may be much below that.

Taking into account all the things that can be done with smartphones, including picture and video-taking, getting directions via GPS, using the vast multitude of mobile health and other apps, connecting to social media sites and so much more — not to mention making phone calls — many family caregivers would love to see senior loved ones using smartphones. In the past the cost has put them out of reach for many as a gift, in no small part because of the ongoing bill for data services that goes with one. Competition has brought down the cost of both, though, so you might find the right gift for your senior loved one in this area.

Maybe you’re still stumped about what you give your senior loved ones this year, but we hope we put you on track with some ideas. If nothing else, we got you thinking about it with enough lead time to come up with something good!

Many thanks to the research folks at CEA. We look forward to next year’s report — and of course the 2014 CES before that!

5 thoughts on “Thinking Holiday Gifts for Seniors – Think of Tech They Wouldn’t Get Themselves”

  1. Thanks for this article. There is so much technology available that can benefit older adults. With the right support and education tech gadgets and smart home technology can allow older adults to connect with their family and friends while providing another avenue for them to actively engage in their community. I often recommend e-readers for our clients with vision issues- the ability to read in large print makes such a difference!

    • Thank you for your comment, Jennifer. Great point on the e-readers. Everyone can set the print size to one that works for them, all with the same book.

  2. Thanks for the excellent post. The statistic that stood out for me is the response to the question about expecting to ever own a mobile device being only 1/3 of respondents. As a strong supporter of technology for seniors ( is this the largest of the barriers, that many individuals don’t even expect to own the technology or is that more of a statement about the comment,”with many saying they won’t go for it until the traditional alternative is no longer available”.

    • Thanks, Scott. That tells me family members need to take the initiative if they think senior loved ones can benefit but won’t act on their own because they don’t know what it can mean.

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