If you’re thinking of buying Grandma her first ever smartphone or tablet for the holidays, but aren’t sure she’ll be able to handle the technology … make that purchase! Studies show technology can lead to the deeper levels of social engagement associated with improved mental and physical wellbeing in older adults. But there’s a catch — you need to help Grandma learn how to use that mobile device in order for her to reap the full benefits of social technology.
“Simply having technology isn’t what leads to greater life satisfaction for older people,” notes Dr. Kevin O’Neil, chief medical officer of Brookdale Senior Living, and a clinical professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida. “Using technology for meaningful social engagement is what counts, and the rewards can be life-altering for many seniors.”
Ample research shows social interactions are good for older people, yet more than a third of Americans older than 80 don’t use technology for social networking, a study by Brookdale and the Stanford Center on Longevity found. Sixty-three percent of seniors do use technology to stay connected to loved ones. Seventy percent who use technology, such as cell phones and computers to stay connected, say it improves their communications with loved ones. And those who do use technology say they feel happier, more satisfied and their health is better, the study found; 85 percent said they were satisfied with life, and 72 percent said they were in good or excellent health.
“Feeling overwhelmed by the complexities of new technology was the top reason older people said they didn’t try new technologies,” O’Neil says. “Fortunately, that’s a fairly easy fix. All that’s really required is some assistance from more tech-savvy younger loved ones to help seniors learn how to use new technologies to enrich their social and intellectual lives.”
Brookdale, America’s largest provider of senior living communities, has developed programs to help residents learn to use new technology so they can stay socially connected to their loved ones as part of the company’s efforts to use technology to enrich the lives of seniors known as “Rewiring Aging.” O’Neil and the aging experts at Brookdale offer some tips to help seniors overcome barriers to technology use:
* If you’re buying technology for an older loved one, remember simple is better and less is more. Forty-one percent of older people polled in the Brookdale study said new technology is too complicated. If you want Grandma to be able to make calls, text and access her Facebook account, she probably doesn’t need a smartphone with all the other bells and whistles. Look for a device that does only what she needs and not much more.
* Look for devices that are larger, with screens that will be easier to see, such as a tablet versus a smartphone, or a laptop with a larger screen.
* Assist with setup of the device. Increase the on-screen font size and use bold to help older eyes more easily see text on small device screens.
* Screen colors can affect readability, so pay attention to the color of the font and background. Avoid pastels and light colors that are difficult to see. Adjust the device’s background theme to be minimally distracting.
* Help your older loved one create user names and passwords, and write them all down to be stored in a secure location. Be sure to address security settings on social media accounts. Limit who can contact your loved one through social media, and make sure your older loved ones understand why they must never accept online invitations or interactions from people they don’t know in person.
* Show your loved one how to use email and text messaging, attach or open photos. Again, stress the importance of never opening an attachment in an email from someone they don’t know.
* For seniors with dexterity challenges, a separate, larger keyboard can make device use much easier. Or, consider showing your loved one how to use voice-to-text applications so typing is unnecessary.
* Load some fun brain games onto the device to help stimulate your older loved one’s mind.
“Technology can be a wonderful way to enrich older people’s lives, allowing them to stay connected with loved ones regardless of distance and mobility,” O’Neil says. “Helping your older loved one learn how to connect with their loved ones via technology can be a wonderful holiday gift that will benefit them all year long!”