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In addition to improving seniors’ health, lifestyle, and safety, technology also offers a wide range of entertainment options. While the younger generations may think older Americans are technology dinosaurs, they are becoming more digitally connected than ever before. Seniors participating in technology are generally more affluent and have higher degrees of education. Seniors with more limited incomes and lower levels of education create the biggest digital divide between younger and older technology users.
Technology Using Smartphones
Smartphone ownership and the ease of access to apps, including social media and online games, continue to increase rapidly, with 91 percent of technology users aged 50 or more saying they use personal technology devices to stay in touch with family and friends. Texting by seniors (86%) has become as pervasive as email (87%). Smartphones are also handy for planning local travel and receiving weather and traffic information. Simply put, older Americans now leverage smartphone use in much the same ways as their younger counterparts. Seniors (aged 60 – 69) are even leading the charge in smartphone use to manage their medical care. Online banking and money management are becoming more prevalent with senior users as they become educated about privacy tools to protect their identity and assets online and in cloud storage.
Online learning is prevalent in the senior demographic. An AARP survey shows 23 percent of older adults embrace online learning by taking classes for certificates, obtaining degrees, and Do It Yourself (DIY) tutorials. Senior online learning courses may help increase mental agility and promote longevity. This is important to seniors due to the alarming rise of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the aging population. While there is no direct evidence linking online learning to staving off dementia, it can’t hurt a senior to pursue interactive education, as it may provide a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing.
Virtual Reality Devices
Virtual reality and environments are also on the rise for seniors. The growth rate is currently about 4 percent a year, with 13 percent of adults aged 50 or more engaging in the technology. Nearly 90 percent of all virtual reality headsets are smartphone-based. The ease of porting a smartphone into a headset that operates as the screen makes virtual reality a compelling tool for aging seniors. While it provides immersive realities for gaming entertainment, it also allows seniors with limited mobility to explore. Imagine a senior who can’t walk being able to tour ancient Greek architecture, enjoy a virtual scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef, or visit a faraway museum without ever leaving their home. The mental stimulation and joy it can bring are just tapping the senior market.
Wearable technology is gaining popularity among seniors, including products like smart watches, smart jewelry, fitness trackers, and smart clothing. While being worn, they provide assistance to augment memory, intellect, communication, creativity, physical abilities, and senses. However, they also come with challenges like power requirements, network resources, and privacy concerns. Wearable fitness trackers are becoming commonplace in assisted living and nursing facilities as the technology will alert medical staff engaged in other tasks when a patient’s vitals are outside their norm.
Worldwide, corporations are very interested in wearable technologies, particularly regarding medical issues. Some seniors who would not qualify for implant surgery because of pre-existing health conditions might be able to use a wearable pacemaker rather than having a surgical implant procedure. Other techniques for nonsurgical intervention include smart patches and electronic tattoos that can regulate dysfunctional systems in the body.
For seniors who can tolerate implant surgeries, new and innovative ideas for micro-device implants sparked the concept of the transhuman: a biological human being augmented by implants that might provide improved intelligence, awareness, strength, or durability. Even without a serious health issue, implants may soon be able to enhance the medical monitoring of seniors in their daily lives. Beyond highly accurate fitness trackers, these implants may be able to observe developing physical and mental issues to predict adequate responses to health changes.
The video game industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the US economy, reaching annual sales of $23 billion with projected increases. While some of the games seniors play online aim to keep memory and brain function in good working order, 38 percent of adults aged 50 or more are video gamers purely for entertainment purposes. While these games may provide entertainment and human connection (in person or online), they also have cognitive benefits from ever-changing game scenarios.
Seniors will continue to increase their use of technology at many levels. Development to meet the demands of senior needs and their purchasing power will drive the technology industry in ways we can’t imagine yet.
Our elder law attorneys keep you informed of issues affecting seniors. If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please contact our Albany office today at (518) 452-6979 and schedule a consultation. We can also help you plan for long-term care needs in your home or assisted living and nursing home facilities.