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How to Help a Senior Embrace Technology (U.S. Version)

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Seniors have witnessed stunning advances in technology during their lifetime. Rotary telephones have given way to smart cellular phones. Televisions no longer pull in programming over the airwaves but instead can receive hundreds of high-definition digital channels through fiber optic cables. Automobiles today don’t have carburetors or AM radios; they can park themselves, and they respond to voice-controlled media programming via a full-color screen in the dashboard.

Yes, seniors have experienced the greatest expansion of technology in the history of civilization.

So why can’t you get Mom to use a cell phone?

Three Key Barriers to Technology Usage Among Seniors

A 2014 Pew Research Center survey on older adults and technology use showed that 41 percent of American adults over age 65 don’t use the Internet in any way. More than half of seniors don’t have broadband Internet at home, and nearly one-quarter of them don’t use cell phones. Why is this so?

The survey highlights three key barriers that may keep seniors from embracing technology, including:

  • Skepticism about the benefits of using technology
  • Physical challenges that make it difficult to use devices
  • Trouble learning new technologies

If you can overcome these obstacles, you can open up a whole new world for your senior family members.

Ways Technology Can Benefit Seniors

Mom (or Grandma) may not realize it yet, but she may be missing out on the many advantages technology has to offer. From socializing to shopping, technology can make life easier and more enjoyable for seniors. A few key benefits include:

  • Socialization: connect with family members and friends through social media, share photos, video chat with the grandkids
  • Knowledge: stay on top of current news, easily view the bank balance, send a question to the doctor electronically
  • Entertainment: read books on e-readers, play games, watch videos
  • Shopping: buy anything from kitchen gadgets to toiletries without leaving the house, get special deals and coupons

How to Help a Senior Embrace Technology

To help senior loved ones overcome the barriers keeping them from experiencing the benefits of technology, try these approaches:

  1. Ease into things. Start by expanding your senior loved one’s use of technology she’s already comfortable with. For instance, if Mom uses a cell phone only to make calls, teach her how to text with it. Once the senior is comfortable with texting, you can introduce the idea of getting a smartphone.
  2. Appeal to the heart—not the mind—to demonstrate the benefits of technology. If your loved one is skeptical of the benefits of using technology, start with the heart. Using your own tablet or laptop computer, show your senior loved one photos shared by family members on social networking sites. If the senior feels she’s missing out on these interactions, she’ll be more interested in learning how to get online.
  3. Choose the right device. The Pew Center report showed seniors feel much more comfortable with tablet computers and e-book readers than with smartphones. This may be due to age-related physical limitations, such as arthritic fingers, that can make gadgets difficult to operate. In this case, a tablet with a touch screen may be easier for a senior to use than a smartphone that requires precise manipulation to operate.
  4. Offer one-on-one instruction. When a senior just wants to learn how to read an e-book or go on Facebook, enrolling in a computer class could be overkill. A better approach may be to sit down with your loved one and teach him only the things he wants to know right now. This method doesn’t overwhelm him with unnecessary detail. If your loved one uses professional home care services, this might be a great activity for your loved one to do with his caregiver.
  5. Recruit the grandkids to help. No matter how much you love your parent, the role-reversal involved in teaching your parent a new skill may cause tension in your relationship. On the other hand, the grandchildren may not have to overcome this constraint, and they’re likely much more technologically savvy.
  6. Exercise patience. Your senior family member may need help time and again to remember all the steps involved in performing a particular task. Try to be patient, knowing that eventually this repetition may result in her developing a new skill that can bring her a wealth of knowledge and entertainment during her later years.

The Pew Research Center study showed that seniors who embrace technology often end up incorporating it into their daily routine. If you can overcome a few hurdles, your senior loved one can enjoy all the benefits of technology, too.

Last revised: July 22, 2015

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 7, 2015 at 10:48 am | Posted by Betty Bradford

    I look forward to receiving helpful information


  2. August 6, 2015 at 2:54 am | Posted by Marianne Shade

    Modern technology has a stunning amount of vocabulary attached to it, and a good deal of it can be confusing to anyone who has never been confronted by it before. I think it's important to keep it simple, but not dumb it down too much. You never know when a client may have to contact tech support on their own, and they need the right words in order to understand and be understood.


  3. August 5, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Posted by Colette

    This is a lofty goal, but just not practical for seniors whose short term memory and executive functions are impaired. There are too many steps involve even in logging onto an email account or searching the Internet . The elderly person will need a coach beside him or her every step of the way. That's not a bad thing, but expecting that they will happily embrace technology and start sending emails, browsing websites and reading articles online is setting them up for failure. My parent won't even push one speed-dial button on the landline phone to call a family member. It's too overwhelming!


    • August 6, 2015 at 8:35 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      You're right, Colette! It can be overwhelming. I found that my grandmother really responded to the ease of use of an iPad. It was much easier than a computer. She still had plenty of questions, but we were there to help and it kept her connected. Finding the right technology is more important that just getting them online!


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