For most of us, growing older means it becomes harder to keep up with the fast pace of changing technology, especially now in the digital age. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely impossible for senior citizens to learn how to become more tech savvy. In this article, we look into all about seniors and technology.

So why should seniors learn how to use technology?

Sometimes it’s tempting to just beg off using all the fancy tech gadgets because they’re hard to learn. But there are reasons why seniors should try to use even the most basic tech. Here are some of them:

1.It helps the elderly become more independent – Thanks to gadgets like in-home glucose monitoring systems, oximeters, wearable technology like smart watches, and personal alarms, retirees can stay on top of  their health even if you live independently. Apps can do anything from reminding you to take your pills to tracking your pulse rates to notifying the Red Cross if you fall. These won’t replace caregivers or doctors’ appointments, but they can help inspire some autonomy.

Aside from health-related tech, there are also devices that help people complete tasks like the increasingly popular robot vacuums and modern appliances like air fryers or induction cookers that allow people to cook without an open flame.

2. It can connect retirees to their loved ones – Some of older individuals don’t live with or near family or friends but communications gadgets can very easily bridge the miles. Whether they just want to say “Hi” or get into some really long chats, a mobile or a computer with a good Internet connection can do wonders. Messaging and calling apps like FaceTime or Skype are great for maintaining connections and keeping older people from being too isolated.

3. Tech can keep seniors entertained and informed – One reason the young ones are so glued to their devices is that they’re so engaging. A person can do anything from watch movies or play games on something as small as a mobile phone or as complex as a computer.

Gadgets can be good companions for when seniors are stuck inside. You can watch videos on YouTube to learn a new craft or just laugh at cute kittens (adorableness without the shedding fur – perfect for seniors with allergies!), listen to music and talk shows on Spotify, follow the news on the ABC News website, or play games on a video console. With that last one, they don’t even have to be sitting the whole time; some games let users dance or play sports with special controllers.

4. It can help the elderly become more productive – There are lots of apps that can help folks keep track of schedules, ensuring that they can accomplish everything (or almost everything) they set out to do. This is great for those who tend to forget tasks or get too engrossed in activities.

Additionally, with a proper internet connection and a good computer, we can access a myriad of online classes from different organisations and institutions, covering any number of topics. One can go with free classes or start a new diploma or certificate route; it’s all up to you!

5. Technology can be therapeutic –Thanks to smart gadgets like mobile phones and tablets, people have been developing apps that can help people of all ages, but also especially seniors, improve their mental health.

There are apps like Lumosity which exercise the brain through games focused on memory, problem-solving, and processing speed, while there are others that are more meditative like Headspace and Calm which are basically guided meditations aimed at relaxing stressful thoughts and anxiety.

There’s also the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) app, What’s Up, which helps users cope with depression and anxiety by helping them understand how they’re feeling on a given day as well as encourage them to continue good habits. Meanwhile, for those who want to speak with a therapist but can’t afford to, there’s the more affordable subscription-based Talkspace which connects users to trained professional therapists who can offer support.

Basically, adapting to new technology offers seniors a lot, especially in terms of achieving more independence. You don’t always have to be updated with the latest tech, but something that helps you do what you need to do is a great start.

Now that we’ve established the different ways technology can help the elderly, you’ll need to understand the reasons why a lot of seniors find it difficult to adapt in order to address them.

Some common hardships seniors encounter with technology

  1. Technology changes so quickly – Trying to stay updated with the latest gadgets is so overwhelming. Imagine finally getting the hang of how your mobile phone works and then suddenly the app updates so that you have to learn how to use it again? It can happen and it is frustrating for most people, but also especially for seniors.
  2. Tech can be expensive – Getting a gadget is a pretty big investment and considering all the other living expenses seniors have to include in their budget, buying a phone or computer doesn’t exactly necessarily seem like the prudent choice.
  3. It’s hard to adapt – It’s not always easy to learn new things when you get older, especially if you tend to forget things. Some seniors may not have the confidence to jump into something new at their advanced age.
  4. Vision and dexterity issues – As people grow older, some health issues start to develop. In relation to gadgets, we’ll mostly need good eyesight and manual dexterity, two facets affected by age. Problems with these can make it harder for the elderly to read small displays (or it can get straining) and work touchscreens or buttons.

Knowing these issues, how do we help seniors learn to become more tech savvy?

  1. Understand that you don’t have to have the latest technology – The fact is technology does change rapidly and this is likely always going to be the case. Instead of completely shunning tech because of this, encourage seniors to find a basic mobile phone or tablet that fits their purposes. Just keep it pared down to the apps they need, updating apps only when truly necessary, and they’ll be fine.
  2. Consider entry-level or mid-range gadgets, or look into second-hand devices – If they can afford the top-of-the-line phones, that’s fine, but they’re usually also very complex machines. It’s better to focus on getting something that they can get the best mileage off of. Something with the most basic functionalities, performs well, and is easy-to-use, is your best bet. The simpler it is to use, the more confident they’ll be about integrating it into their daily life. Also, if you want a cheaper gadget, look into second-hand markets from reputable sellers.
  3. Encourage them and teach them patiently – It might not be easy for your senior citizen to use gadgets; chances are they’ll be afraid to adapt because it’s all so new. Be supportive and help them get used to it, maybe print out cards that show them how to use their phone or remote.

    Still, if you don’t know how to teach them, you can always connect them to organisations that are well-versed in helping seniors learn internet and computer skills like the NSW Government’s Tech Savvy Seniors Programme, Australian Multicultural Community Services, and IT4Retirees, to name a few.
  4. If they struggle with problems in their eyes or hands, take advantage of tech!  Yes, it sounds confusing but a lot of newer technology is being developed to assist people who have visual and manual dexterity issues. Voice-recognition software is now becoming more commonplace so they can just ask their “assistant’s” help. Bigger screens or enlarging fonts can also help.

These are just some ways we can help seniors adapt to technology. But really, all it boils down to is being there to assist and encourage them, and being able to show them how gadgets can vastly improve their lives.