In 1950, getting in touch with a friend involved flipping through a phone book, finding the right name and number, dialing the digits on a rotary phone, and waiting to hear whether or not your friend would pick up. In many ways, technology has advanced and simplified considerably since that time. Phone numbers can be stored digitally, people can leave voicemail messages, and video calling makes it possible to see a loved one’s face in addition to hearing their voice. However, keeping up with the pace of technological advancement remains a challenge, especially for generations who did not grow up using the internet, computers, and mobile phones.
Over the last year, as more seniors found themselves separated from loved ones, technology use accelerated among older generations. Many watched their grandchildren's first steps over Zoom or used smartphones to stay abreast of current events and news. If you’re the child or caregiver of a senior, you can play a crucial role in understanding the benefits of technology for seniors and helping your older loved ones incorporate new products and services into their lives.
THE NEW FRONTIER OF ‘SILVER TECH’
Despite the initial hurdles, the senior population has risen to the challenge and widely embraced the internet age. Over the last two decades, senior internet usage has skyrocketed – from just 15 percent of senior households to 73 percent of individuals aged over 65. Many seniors and older adults own smartphones and even make up an increasingly large percentage of social media users.
Businesses have begun releasing more products and services designed to support aging adults as a part of the global ‘active aging’ industry, also referred to as ‘Silver Tech.’ In 2020, an AARP Tech Survey found that the rate of technological adoption for people over age 50 actually mirrors the rate of adoption by 18 to 49-year-olds. Seniors recognize that such services make it easier to stay independent longer – from banking online to shopping, browsing videos, finding information on government websites, and connecting with their community via video calling platforms like FaceTime and Zoom.
EXPLORE DEVICES AND FEATURES DESIGNED FOR SENIORS
Cell phones, computers, and tablets today come with a host of accessibility features designed to aid individuals with limited sight, hearing, or mobility. Apple and Microsoft devices, for example, allow you to adjust text sizes and colors and enable voice-to-text features as defaults. Many devices can be synced to Bluetooth earpieces and even hearing aids.
Before purchasing a device or giving it to your loved one, research what devices best cater to their needs, and then enable the features you know will be useful. Whether you’re searching for the right computer or curious to learn about new devices headed to the market, researching what’s out there is a great place to start.
DETERMINE INTEREST AND ADD VALUE
Family members often give a senior parent a cell phone or tablet as a gift with the good intention of desiring to stay in closer contact with them. But if they feel comfortable with what they already have, the gift won’t achieve the desired effect – in fact, if they're not interested, a new piece of technology may even feel like a burden.
Rather than surprising them, start a conversation to gauge their interest, explain what options exist, and help your loved one decide what's most useful for them. For example, you might demonstrate how smartphones and tablets offer digital music libraries that would allow them to listen to radio hits they haven’t heard since their high school prom!
PRACTICE THE POWER OF REPETITION
As with learning any new skill, practice makes perfect, and for seniors learning new technologies, repetition serves as terrific practice. Icons, apps, software, and concepts like the cloud can feel extremely foreign and confusing. To prevent them from backsliding while learning, use it with them and encourage them to use the skill as often as possible.
One mutually beneficial idea might be calling or texting your loved one daily. Even calling to say a quick, “Thinking of you!” or sending a funny photo or video will encourage and energize them to answer their phone, listen to a voice message, or read a text. That repetition will solidify the skills and instill confidence to learn more.
START WITH THE BASICS
- Turning on and charging the device (and understanding that it doesn’t have to be turned off just because they're not actively using it)
- Making and answering audio and video calls
- Receiving and sending texts
- Receiving, viewing, saving, and taking photos
Throughout the difficulties of the last year, even older adults who never thought they'd adopt new technologies have recognized how 'Silver Tech' can improve quality of life by keeping them entertained, informed, and connected to those they love.
As you teach the senior in your life, remember to practice patience. Every day will be different and interest may ebb and flow, and that’s okay and normal. Learning technology can be a challenge for anybody, but these skills will be a true gift to them, and to you.