There’s a nasty stereotype about older adults and technology. Too many people believe that seniors don’t want to engage with digital tech. That they’re too fearful, or too stubborn, or just plain too old-fashioned to keep up.
But that’s wrong. According to the AARP, 91% of seniors use a computer every day, 83% use smart-phones, and 94% say they depend on digital tech to stay connected with their loved ones.
Clearly, older adults are interested in technology. So, if residents at senior living communities aren’t plugged in to the latest digital tools, we’re not doing enough to make technology accessible for them.
How do we fix it? What should we do to make sure residents enjoy the latest technologies?
These are questions on many senior living executives’ minds as the LeadingAge Annual Expo approaches. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the answers.
Why are seniors left out?
Before we talk about solutions, we should examine what causes the problem in the first place. There are a few reasons why we don’t see senior-living residents engage with technology as much as they should.
Most of us can’t imagine life without lightning-fast, always-on broadband. And while senior living has made big strides in connectivity, many communities (especially those in rural areas) offer internet that just isn’t up to snuff.
2) Lack of confidence
By now, most seniors know their way around a keyboard. But the advanced facts of digital life remain a little daunting. One study found, for example, that many older adults are eager to learn new technologies, they also report strong feelings of inadequacy when they contemplate using a modern smart-phone.
Lacking the confidence to get started, seniors hesitate before they sign up for today’s hyper-convenient digital services.
Finally, there are the physical barriers to contend with.
Today’s touch-screens seem built for people with nimble fingers and excellent vision. Tiny keys, sensitive interfaces, and limited screen real-estate can make tablets tough for seniors to use. And if they get too frustrated, they eventually stop trying.
Why we need to get seniors connected
Among the concerns facing today’s older adults — elder abuse, nurse-aide labor shortages, the sky-rocketing costs of care — digital connectivity might seem, on the surface, a little trivial.
But this, too, is a misconception. We’re not just talking about Facebook, here.
Online services aren’t niche anymore. They’re mainstream. Essential. And leaving older adults out can have some serious consequences.
For one, it cuts seniors off from important innovations. Health-monitoring tools, prescription trackers, and online medical communities have all been shown to have measurable, meaningful impacts on residents’ well-being. Why deny them the chance to improve their life?
But perhaps more important are the social consequences. Digital tools have become a fundamental part of how we stay connected with one another. This is especially true for senior living residents, who sometimes lack other ways to engage with the outside world.
That sense of isolation is more than just unpleasant. It’s dangerous. Associated with depression, cardiovascular disease, and functional decline.
That’s real harm that could be prevented, if seniors have access to the right tools.
For instance, a specialized solution like LifeLoop can open a channel of communication between the resident, their families, and the community’s staff. This doesn’t just keep families engaged in their loved-ones care decisions. It also reinforces a sense of connection and community, which can be a major determinant of a resident’s overall satisfaction with their lives.
Putting tech in seniors’ hands
Digital tools, then, should not be seen as a luxury. They’re a bedrock part of a resident’s well-being, and we should do everything possible to get these tools into older adults’ hands.
Here’s what we can do.
Put resources where they count
For many communities, investing in next-generation broadband can be a major financial strain. However, for the emerging generation of older adults, connectivity isn’t an optional perk — it’s a minimum expectation.
Both for the sake of their census, then, as well as for residents’ quality of life, communities should consider modernizing their internet infrastructure. Unimpeded and reliable WiFi should be the standard everywhere.
A little know-how goes a long way
It’s not just the hardware that counts. Even if they can get online, some older adults will hesitate to make the most of their digital opportunities.
Senior living communities, however, can encourage their residents to take the leap. Simple training sessions — about online privacy, social network safety, or tech tutorials — can give older adults the confidence they need to navigate modern digital tools.
Buy with the older adult in mind
Senior living communities understand their residents’ limitations. They know the physical barriers that block older adults from making the most of their tech. They should keep these limitations in mind when they’re searching for solutions to implement in their communities.
Software should be intuitive and easy. Devices should be able to accommodate a trembling hand, or an imperfect eye, or a mind that’s not quite as quick as it used to be. Networked solutions should guide older adults directly to their most important priorities — to a connection with their families, to a deeper level of engagement with their caregivers, to tools that directly improve their quality of life.
The ultimate innovation
All of these approaches ultimately boil down to one thing: empathy.
Powerful as digital solutions can be, they’re no substitute for putting ourselves in our residents’ shoes. Understanding older adults’ concerns, and taking a thoughtful approach to address them, is the single most important skill we’ll need to include seniors in the technological revolution.
That’s the conclusion speakers came to at LeadingAge, and that’s the fundamental mission behind our work at LifeLoop.