During the pandemic, technology kept us together, both at work and at home. Older adults embraced certain tech innovations to stay in touch with family and friends and to receive crucial services like medical care. It was a shot in the arm for many older adults who had been ignoring or denying the most basic of tech tools like smartphones and tablets. The pandemic was the catalyst that lessened the fear of the unknown.
AARP’s annual tech survey bears this out. Older adults are now Facetiming family and friends, streaming movies and TV shows, and purchasing new smart devices, such as phones, tablets, TVs, watches, voice home assistants, and home security. More older adults view tech as useful to stay connected than before COVID-19.
What does the future hold for older adults and tech? Laurie M. Orlov, Principal Analyst at Aging and Health Technology Watch recently released a new Technology for Aging 2022 Market Overview. This extensive study researched the intersection of technology and aging, looking at the trends and barriers now and in the future. Here are some highlights.
Tech to Age at Home
As the senior population grows, so does the need for more care services at home. More and more older adults are planning to age at home, both for financial and comfort reasons. Senior living communities and in-home care cost on average $4500/month. This will likely be out of reach for many middle-class homeowners.
The use of technology can make aging at home successful, with the support of families and caregivers. There are several categories of tech for seniors to explore.
Communication and Engagement
Isolation can be very harmful to older adults at home alone. Technology that connects to others is critical. Communication and engagement tech has evolved very quickly since the pandemic started. In 2022, it is expected that voice and “no-touch” devices will become more prevalent. As of January 2022, 56% of US adults are using voice assistants such as Amazon, Google, and Apple provide.
Blue-tooth-connected hearables (hearing aids) are becoming more available to seniors through consumer channels. The newest versions are highly functional and less expensive than earlier versions. They look very much like any other Apple earbud, so the stigma of wearing a hearing aid is diminished. Most are still not reimbursed by insurance.
Other tools for communication such as video chat on tablets and phones, Routinify’s app, email, and gaming will continue to connect more seniors to family, friends, and services, all contributing to a better quality of life at home.
Safety and Security
For seniors and the elderly, one of the biggest obstacles to aging in place is having a home free from obstacles and dangers, especially for the 45% of women aged 75+ who live alone. The traditional Personal Emergency Response Service (PERS) pendant is still available but some may find it less useful than certain new tech offerings. There are now smart watches that offer fall detection. There are also in-room devices for fall detection now available. Home security monitoring technology is also important for older adults aging at home.
Health and Wellness
The pandemic accelerated the trend of receiving health care at home. When the federal government declared a public health emergency and enabled the reimbursement of telehealth services at home, demand for these services increased sharply. Those middle-income families were suddenly enabled in a totally new way, and affordably.
In 2021, telehealth was used 38x more than in pre-pandemic times. This healthcare option is now a common option for any older adult. Remote patient monitoring (RPM)is also innovating within the home care market and is offered by some home care agencies. These systems monitor a senior’s movements, manage their medications, and track their vital signs. Of course, there are also plenty of fitness trackers and wearables that can keep older adults active and healthy.
Learning and Contribution
We are never too old to learn or contribute to the world around us. There are new tech options that facilitate learning, online volunteering, and training. Organizations like AARP and OATS Senior Planet Digital help an older person learn a broad range of new skills. Seniors at home can still engage with their community both near and far through educational tech.
Despite all of the good that technology can do for older adults, there are risks. Data breaches and scams have accelerated. Seniors and their families should be cautious, especially with their healthcare records. Nearly 40 million people had their healthcare data exposed by security breaches in 2021.
Older Adults’ Tech Needs
This year, the oldest baby boomer will celebrate their 76th birthday. The 65+ population exceeds 54 million. 53 million Americans are caring for family members in their homes. In order to live in their homes, seniors and their caregivers will adopt various tech devices and services by the millions. Tech providers must consider the needs of older adults–and involve them–when designing and rolling out new products and innovations.
For older adults, and especially the elderly, touchless technology and voice-enabled interactions are a must, as is a brightly lit display of large font text. Engaging how-to videos are also ideal, especially for older adults setting up and learning about a new device.
Voice options are expected in smart devices and apps, including appliances, devices, and vehicles. Sensor technology is changing. The panic buttons on a chain are evolving. There will soon be options for non-wearable and radar-based fall detection, as well as wearables that predict strokes and measure biometrics. Demand for security monitoring technology in the home will also grow, including in-home hubs that manage smart door cameras and doorbells, window sensors, and voice-first emergency response.
Less expensive hearing aid options with the ability to finance are now very important for seniors. The FDA will approve over-the-counter hearing aid purchases, which will increase demand. At-home self-service or self-fitting hearables will also expand (further enabled as a result of Covid).
Tech innovators should also address the absence of tech training and support. And it is not just older adults who need help. Many new tech products are still too hard to set up and use for both seniors AND their caregivers. Services like Support.com and Cyber-Seniors will tailor their messages and offerings to reach that older adult audience. National efforts will devise and offer tech training programs for older adults in 2022. There are also tech providers who develop an “Easy Mode”, which is a simplified version of their product that is easier to set up and use.
All of this innovation may be exciting, but barriers remain between older adults and tech. There are still many seniors and in particular, the elderly who do not have a smartphone or an email address. These are older adults in danger of falling through the cracks of our society and becoming isolated, unhealthy, and uncared for.
Tech thought leaders have maintained that we have reached a technology dependency level that is worrisome, which could have an impact on depression in older adults. But lack of access may be worse. The various barriers older adults experience regarding using tech must be addressed. Here are some (not all) of the barriers tech experts are worried about.
- Lack of Awareness: The pandemic certainly made more offline older adults aware of the benefits of technology. That does not mean they are aware of the diverse amount of applications and devices available and the benefits they can gain by using them.
- Anxiety: Many older adults are often reluctant to learn new technology. This reluctance is rooted in a concern that they will not be able to access it, can’t figure out how to use it, or they will break it. They are also worried about security. Change is difficult for everyone, but it can be very difficult when we don’t understand how the new changes work.
- Set-up and Integration Difficulties: Setting up new technology is not fun or easy for anyone. For seniors who are used to reading a users’ manual to learn about a new appliance or car, configuring a new smart TV or smart speaker through a remote can be confusing. These manuals are now all online. Accessing and downloading one may be incomprehensible for some people.
- Price: Tech devices and software prices can add up quickly. Each item can be hundreds of dollars, and if seniors want to integrate them for more services, the total cost can reach thousands of dollars. Older adults on fixed incomes may not be able to afford the kind of technology that would enhance their lives at home.
- Ongoing Tech Support: Devices will break or become obsolete. Malware and other cyber attacks occur daily. When these things happen, many people have a difficult time understanding what is happening, and finding tech support can be daunting. This may cause some to abandon tech altogether.
There is a lot more information about barriers and trends in the tech industry, seen through the lens of our aging population and their needs in the research completed by Aging and Health Technology Watch.
As the senior population grows, technology will hopefully innovate and adapt to accommodate a surge in their unique needs. However, these innovations will only be useful if older adults, and in particular the elderly, can overcome their reluctance or discomfort and embrace the many useful products and services being created for them.