Though there is still a significant digital divide between younger and older Americans, more people over the age of 60 are discovering the benefits of technology. They are emailing, texting, Googling, and even using social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And it is having a positive impact on their lives. Aging parents are communicating more with their family, reconnecting with old friends, keeping up with community developments, and even managing their health issues.
Former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee said, “Today’s technologies have a lot to offer older adults, if they understand how to use the tools in safe and smart ways.” With guided learning, more older Americans can start using technology to their benefit safely and with relative ease.
Let’s face it: New technology can sometimes be overwhelming, even for the generations that grew up with Atari, Nintendo, and PlayStation. For some seniors, the jump in technology from a calculator to a smart phone or a computer seems to be a bridge too far. It’s almost like going from crawling to running a marathon - with no training in between. It’s important to remember that some retirees never had to use personal computers during their working years. This is all new to them.
So, the best way to approach technology with older Americans is with patience and guided repetition. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 77% of older adults needed assistance in learning how to use new technology. But the tech use trends amongst the elderly are encouraging. Nearly 50% of seniors now own smartphones, more than double the share in 2013.
The best way to approach older adults about the benefits of technology is to show them. Walk them through the simple steps in viewing photos of their grandchildren on their smart phones or tablets. Demonstrate how easy it is to talk to a friend or relative they haven’t seen in years through FaceTime or Skype. Or help them send a text or an email and see their face light up when a reply comes in seconds or minutes.
As with any new activity, it may take several tries before they get it. Taking it slow and writing the necessary steps down in a notebook will also help. With persistence and patience, before they know it, your aging parent or relative will be more connected to the outside world.
Technology, like any tool, has its benefits and risks. This is why older adults need to be made aware of the potential dangers such as identity theft, email scams, and malware, and the steps they can take to protect themselves. Here are a few links to help seniors get started and stay safe: