For better or worse, technology is here to stay. Nearly extinct are letters written between family and friends or lengthy phone conversations while tethered to a coiled phone cord. In its place are emoticons, text messages, emails, Messenger, Twitter, Facebook, video chatting, and a plethora of other avenues to connect.
While older adults are the fastest growing segment of the online population (and utilizing Facebook, Google, YouTube and Instagram), nearly a third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet and half don’t have internet access at home. And that number grows exponentially after age 75.
This digital divide increases social isolation among older adults. Research demonstrates that chronic loneliness is as hazardous to the health as smoking. Those who experience chronic loneliness are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely due to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and dementia than those with healthy social relationships.
Technology for Seniors
Thankfully, connecting with family and friends is not as overwhelming as it may appear. There is help. Senior centers, local Eldercare Centers, and public libraries often offer computer labs and technology classes that encourage active aging. These are a great means to gather stress-free support in learning to safely navigate cell phones and computers as well as understanding the ins and outs of search engines, news sites, email, and social media.
Various forms of technology can help seniors combat isolation by easily connecting them to friends and family.
- Cell phones: Several phone manufacturers offer phones with seniors in mind, such as Jitterbug. The Jitterbug line of phones features large text, oversized buttons, easy-to-navigate menus, and quick access to emergency contacts. These providers also offer more advanced options for seniors who desire added features.
- Smartphones: Smartphones can serve as a useful part of the senior’s daily life. Apps such as Google Maps, travel and transportation reservation apps, grocery and other retail shopping apps, Medisafe, Airbnb, and gaming apps such as Luminosity can keep seniors informed, boost cognitive function, and make it easier to get out.
- Video Chat: With a larger geographical distance between families, busy schedules, and job requirements, visiting in person might be difficult on a regular basis. Video chat is the next best option to a face-to-face conversation because it allows users to hold conversations with and to see each other in real time. This is a great option for grandparents wanting to visit with grandchildren. This feature comes standard on many phones, tablets, and laptops. Skype, FaceTime, or Messenger are very popular and user friendly.
- Social Networking: Facebook remains the top social networking site and is easy for older adults to stay connected with family and friends. This medium allows seniors to see photos of loved ones as well as comment on posts and exchange messages privately through Messenger. Instagram is another medium where seniors can share and comment on photos with loved ones, as well as send private messages. Groups are available for seniors to share on a variety of topics, especially age-related issues. AARP offers resources through a Facebook community for seniors to share and exchange information.
- Blogging: Another great way to stay connected with others and to boost writing skills and memory is through blogging. Normally, blogs are maintained by an individual and offer the opportunity for followers to comment. Various websites offer free, easy-to-use blogs, such as blogger.com, wordpress.com, and livejournal.com. Youtube.com is a video-sharing website where individuals can view, upload, and share videos with friends and family and start a video blog (or Vlog).
Whether it’s emailing, texting, blogging, or talking, making use of technology has a positive impact on the lives of seniors because they communicate more frequently with family, reconnect with loved ones, combat loneliness, keep up with community developments, and manage health issues.