Digital Doubt: How Seniors Can Overcome the Anxiety of Technology


In 2012, Pew Research found that, for the first time, more than half of seniors over 65 were using the Internet or email. Today, 88 percent of adults age 50-64 and 74 percent over age 65 own a cellphone. Furthermore, 65 percent aged 50-64 and 46 percent 65 and older use social media. While it’s clear the older generations are integrated in the digital age, it is still a slow, difficult transition for many seniors. The same research numbers show that while many older adults use mobile devices, only 19 percent have a smart phone.

Seniors are hesitant to adopt the “latest and greatest” in technology. Are they right to stay away? Or should the older generations embrace this fast-paced digital world?

What’s The Big Deal?

Countless times, teenagers get frustrated with their grandparent for asking them (yet again) to explain how to find a website or save a photo to the cloud. It’s so easy to the grandchildren, they could do it in their sleep. So why is the concept so much harder for the older generations to grasp? According to a recent study by MTV Insights, young millennials are not only more tech-savvy than their elders, but also more resilient and adaptable. In an interview with Reuters, Allison Hillhouse from MTV Insights explained that younger Generation Y millennials are even more tech savvy that older millennials in their later 20s and 30s. This group in their teens and early 20s were born into the digital age and have technology naturally integrated into their lives.

“We call them digital homesteaders, instead of digital pioneers,” explained Hillhouse. “They have grown up with social media their entire life. They are more in control of it.”

Older generations did not see the technological boom until much later in their life. Adapting to the rapidly digitized society is naturally a bigger struggle for them than their younger counterparts. Adult children can’t simply buy their senior parents a smartphone and expect them to naturally learn how to use it. Many senior living facilities and volunteer groups are implementing programs where seniors can come to learn about the Internet and technology. For example, in Rhode Island a group of high school students volunteered with a group called Teens Teaching Technology, which partners teens with senior citizens to teach them about using basic functions of modern devices. Programs like this not only benefit older adults, but the students learn communication skills and appreciation for older generations.

What Kind of Technology Can Benefit Seniors?

While seniors should not feel the need to master complex devices and the latest technological advances, some tech tools can help them and are easy to use. According to recent research from Michigan State University, teaching older adults how to use communication technology like the Internet and smartphones can cut back on depression and loneliness often seen in aging seniors by more than 30 percent. Technology can also help with safety and medical issues. Some useful tech tools and gadgets for seniors include:

Automated cleaners. Cleaning robotics like the iRobot Roomba and the Scooba are floor cleaning robots that save older adults from struggling with heavy vacuums and cords or messy mops. Other cleaning robotics, like the Looj, can handle tougher jobs like cleaning gutters.

Apps for seniors. One benefit to getting a smartphone is the helpful apps available to seniors. They can use the app from The Hartford to connect to their AARP and insurance information for their home or car. If they need to file a claim or look up information, this app has it automatically so they don’t have to sort through files and papers. There are also emergency response apps, like the Red Panic Button that sends an automated text alert with GPS notification if there is an emergency. Apps like iMedications can track and send reminders when it is time to take medication.

Communication tools. Social media like Facebook or video chat services like Skype can keep seniors connected to their friends and family. Skype is an easy-to-use program with few buttons and can be used on any device for free.

Technology can be very useful to senior citizens, but should be used in moderation and slowly integrated into daily routines. There are many tech tools that can be useful to older generations, but every person is different and no one should ever feel forced into the digital age.