Are Seniors Averse to Technology?
May 29, 2020
“C’mon Ma you have got to try it” I pleaded to my elderly mother. I do not know how my mother lasted this long without ever using the internet, but enough was enough!
“Ok” she said reluctantly settling down by the computer and slowly putting on her reading glasses. “What do I do now?”
“Now I’m going to open the homepage of Google”, I explained. “OK here it is! Now type in ANY question you want into the bar over here and you will find an answer to your question,” I confidently assured her.
My mother looked at me warily, thought for a second, and slowly began to type:
How is Gertrude doing this morning?
The light-hearted humor from this scenario illustrates the tongue-in-cheek societal assumption that our aging population is averse to technology. So much so that inventors in the digital space are scrambling to find inroads to force the issue of older adults embracing technology. However, our senior population lacks the confidence and motivation to pursue using many forms of technology. Why? Joking aside, the answer may lie in how the elderly use different technologies for different purposes and in different contexts. Seeking to explore the relative untapped market of technology for seniors, much has been done by way of market research on how to achieve this – a golden opportunity. It is understood that subsequent generations will embrace technologies and harbor these adoptions as they age.
However, our seniors are not blind to technology and its creation and proliferation. If you observe the life of an 80-year old who was born in 1940, the following are technological advancements that have occurred during their life:
● 1942 – Nuclear Power
● 1947 – The Transistor
● 1957 – Spaceflight
● 1974 – The Personal Computer
● 2012 – Gene Editing
● 2017 – Artificial Intelligence
This concise list ignores technology that the silent generation has been exposed to and readily adopted along the way. Within this same timeframe, our grandparents handily used the microwave, credit cards, contraception, solar cells, the VCR, ATMs, laser printers, scanning microscopes, contact lenses, personal stereos; the list goes on and on.
Cognitive prowess does indeed decline in our advanced years. Therefore, coming up to speed with digital communication and information technologies prove to be burdensome, as the learning curve can be relatively high. According to Forbes, University of California San Diego researchers from their Design Lab recommend a key focus on obstacles that those ages 60 and older face when using technology. Pew Research Center suggests that those in this demographic spend over half of their daily leisure time engaged with technology on some level: TVs, computers, tablets, or other electronic devices. So why do we still carry the assumption that they are tech averse?
The problem does not lie in owning technology, but in using them. These same researchers have isolated how frustration in using technology is a significant barrier to technology adoption. Therefore, it comes down to good design derived from how our seniors want to use technology: their way. Remember, at one time the microwave was designed and marketed to complete an entire thanksgiving meal, including browning a turkey. Now, the idea seems preposterous. Functionally, the microwave is best suited for reheating, thawing, and popcorn. Other technologies have a similar vantage point for seniors. Simplicity is paramount.
Most Seniors prefer to age in place. So, the technologies that serve this demographic well center the user experience around this elective, necessary, and vital environment. Companies like LifeLoop, GrandPad, and BirdSong have simplified the wonderful platform of tablets into consumable and easy interfaces that enhance and encourage engagement, not detract from it.
The three above – feel free to click and check them out yourself – carry a similar theme respectively; smart, simple, and safe ways to connect seniors to their loved ones. With these well-designed tech platforms, low technology-literacy is coded in, removing those adoption barriers that would make something like an app-laden iPad nowhere near as senior-friendly
Low or No Engagement Technology
When the world gets smarter, it can leave an individual feeling rather dumb. This is yet another arena technology innovation has benefited not only seniors, but all of us. Are you prone to losing your keys? How about an eye-scanner or fingerprint sensor that lets you in your own residence! Have you forgotten a key ingredient to your favorite pie recipe? How about asking Alexa or Siri, they seem to know all the answers all the time! Are you all thumbs when it comes to using your TV remote? Try asking it to play your favorite classic Western!
TEMI robots for seniors are a fascinating example of how A.I. can be a uniquely adaptive technology that requires low engagement. TEMI touts itself as “senior living’s newest personal robot”. Imagine your personal robot being able to play your favorite song, display photographs of loved ones, or follow you from room to room to lend a helping “hand” when you need one. What about health concerns? – Ask TEMI to take your temperature or video conference your doctor or nurse practitioner. These adaptive features are designed precisely to enable aging in place.
Some of the more compelling technologies are ones that work when you do not need to recognize they are there. SmartSole is a smartphone sealed within a water-resistant, trimmable shoe insert. The benefit? GPS tracking so a caregiver can know where you are by simple text or email. SmartSole is a clear example of how technology can be uniquely discreet, yet powerfully important for health and safety.
WalkWise uses a “Smart Walker Attachment” that discreetly attaches to walkers. Not only does it encourage walker use – therefore preventing falls – it provides family members and care providers digital activity alerts with usable data to encourage overall wellness and health. WalkWise is a powerful example of how senior-focused design can be accomplished without burdening the user. Seniors understand technology. They also understand simplicity and privacy. This may be a byproduct of wisdom that comes with age. However, they wish technology to be designed well and designed for their needs. Yes, the world’s 65-plus population can be described as the “mother of all untapped markets” when it comes to technology. Step one in tapping this market is to continuously improve technologies by gaining understanding of the ideas and concepts generated by older adults. By default, this will lead to more meaningful technologies for those that may need them the most.
Director of Business Development
“Walking is man’s best medicine” — Hippocrates