Despite the digital revolution that is happening worldwide and among seniors in the Philadelphia area, 50% of adults over age 65 still don’t have in-home broadband capabilities and 41% have zero experience using the Internet. (Pew Research Center 2014) Much of this has to do with reluctance to learn something new, limited access to technology and no available instruction. Other barriers include skepticism about the benefits of using technology, physical challenges that make it difficult to use devices (such as arthritis) and overall difficulty learning new technologies.

Those seniors who have comfortably embraced technology are finding a new type of independence by essentially putting the world in their hands. News, photos of the grandkids and friends’ kids, digital games and online shopping—including groceries—are just a few clicks, or touches, away. The mental health benefits are inarguable for those still living at home, but alone other than when a caregiver or family member visits. Since staying socially engaged is just as important to healthy aging as genetics and maintaining a healthy body, it’s never been more critical than now to help your special senior/s get on the technology bandwagon.

The most prominent benefits of smartphones, tablets and computers have for seniors in the Philadelphia area are:

• Staying connected to long-distance loved ones via video chatting on Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime, social media (keeping up with the grandkids, catch up with old friends)
• Diminishing feelings of isolation and reducing the risk of depression: The ability to fire up the computer and engage in social networking as well as video chats helps to diminish those feelings
• Increased safety for those (seniors) living at home.
• Body and brain health: Seniors can gain access to physical and mental training through video sports games such as Wii, and via spatial recognition, recall and memory games
• Increased cognitive longevity
• Access to apps that help with medication management, including reminders to take and refill medications

If your senior is pushing back when you launch into a technology sermon, try to exercise patience and remind yourself that this is not the world in which they grew up. What our 2-year-olds can do is often quite challenging to a senior. Let him or her come to at his/her own pace and avoid throwing too much at your ‘student’ in one sitting.

It is not surprising that most seniors are more comfortable with a tablet or eBook reader than a smartphone. When you compare the size of text and tabs or buttons, it is easy to see why. However, a growing number of seniors in the Philadelphia area are as deft on their cell phones as their grandchildren. This makes a logical starting point for expanding their digital horizons when it comes to social networking and texting. In fact, it might be very fun for your children (big and little) to help your aging parent or relative learn how to take photos, navigate social networking sites, send and receive email, text message, read the news and even do a little online shopping.

Here are a few ways to do this:

• Demonstrate the ease and convenience of texting
• Share the joy of seeing family and friends’ photos on Facebook and other social networking sites
• Review, select and install mobile apps that may excite your parent or relative, as well as those that can offer health and safety benefits
• Offer transportation to/from free tech training classes to help your senior gain a sense of independent learning and to get out the house and meet other seniors just like them
• Show them how easy it is to set medication reminders
• Help them download games and books, even TV shows and movies, to help occupy their time and exercise their minds
• Do a little online window shopping on Amazon and walk your senior through the required billing and delivery detail setup

Of course, technology for seniors is about much more than social and cognitive engagement. New assistive technology devices are hot right now that offer valuable health benefits. You can learn about some of these here. No doubt many seniors will find the science curious and appreciate the convenience.

And in case you feel a sense of frustration along the way, keep in mind 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.

portrait_beverly Beverly Bernstein Joie, MS, CMC

Providing care management, quality home care, and patient advocacy in the Philadelphia metro area.