Technology

7/20/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

Before the pandemic, technology may have just been a fun diversion for you. Perhaps you used your smartphone and tablet for email, to watch YouTube videos and surf Facebook. The rest of tech’s uses (and complexities) you left to your younger and more tech-savvy kids and grandkids. But over the past year and a half, seniors and technology has gone hand-in-hand; it’s become more of a necessity, even a lifeline!

The Boom of Seniors and Technology During COVID

Since 2020, seniors have leaned heavily on your electronics to get through this crisis. Those smartphones, tablets, and computers not only came in handy for social interaction, but also ordering groceries and takeout; seeing the doctor (telehealth); stream movies; attend virtual religious services; and make appointments to get COVID tests and the vaccine. Now that things have opened back up, heck, you even need a smartphone to scan restaurant menus!

According to AARP’s 2020 technology survey looking into technology use among seniors in 2020, 44 percent of seniors view technology more positively than they did before the pandemic. And not surprisingly, sales of electronic devices are up among this generation, with older adults spending almost three times as much in 2020 on technology as they did in 2019. 

The Learning Curve

But you don’t just go from being a casual user to an IT expert overnight. In the same AARP survey, more than half of the respondents admitted to feeling less than adept at using the electronics they’d purchased. And your adult son or daughter talking you through it over the phone only goes so far!

“You can give an older adult a device, access to the internet and amazing content, but if they don’t have someone showing them what to do, it’s going to sit there unused,” said president and chief executive of Candoo Tech, Liz Hamburg, in a Philadelphia Inquirer.

That’s when many organizations across the country sprang into action to assist with seniors and technology during COVID. Candoo Tech, for example, offered older adults advice about what technology to buy, help in setting up their devices and on-demand support. Pivoting from in-person training, Generations on Line created an online curriculum for smartphones and tablets plus tutorials on Zoom and telehealth. The group also developed a “family coaching kit” to give family members guidance in providing tech instruction to their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Senior Planet took a more proactive approach by calling seniors at the beginning of the lockdown to determine the specific technology training they needed. Not only did seniors request the expected tutorials on Zoom, but they also wanted help with gaming programs, telemedicine, online dating and more. And when kids started remote learning, Senior Planet even offered a Google Classrooms workshop to allow seniors to pinch hit for their kids who were working in monitoring their grandchildren’s schooling.

Future Impact

The fact that months of lockdown and isolation have forced seniors to become more comfortable with technology definitely has had its benefits for aging on many fronts. Video chat allows them to stay engaged and connected, even if they can’t see friends and family on a regular basis. Plus, technology helps seniors live independently longer: they can order groceries and meals online and have them delivered to their door; use portals to communicate with doctors and telehealth for some of their more routine medical appointments; and have their Apple watch or other medical alert device notify a family member when they’ve fallen. And, if seniors are nearing retirement, the ease of working remotely may even convince them to work a little longer.

For info about technology training in your area, contact your local library, senior center, department on aging or Area Agency on Aging. Each state also has a National Assistive Technology Act training center for older adults and people with disabilities, which allows seniors to borrow devices, with some centers even distributing used smartphones, tablets and computers.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri L. Jones