It's no secret that many "mature Americans" are scrambling to keep pace with the rapid advances in the technological revolution. I often hear older friends bemoan the fact that they don't have a handy teenager available to reset their smart TV, program their iPhone or teach them how to take advantage of social media. In fact, most of the senior citizens I know who can actually navigate the internet learned how to do so by taking a class — either at the library or a local school.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 77 percent of older adults felt they would need someone to walk them through the process of learning to use a new technology device. And over 50 percent of those who went online for email or Google still felt that they would need help to master Facebook or Twitter. Once they did expand their internet presence, however, 71 percent went online almost every day or every day, and 11 percent went online three to five times per week.
I was surprised to learn that 18 percent of adults ages 65 and older, the baby boomers, owned smartphones and 59 percent were online. And who knew that over 30 percent of senior citizens used Twitter and Facebook? Ten years ago, retirement-aged adults were resistant when it came to new technology, but now, 60 percent of seniors are willing to go on record to say that technology is having a positive effect on their lives. And a 2017 Pew 2017 survey discovered that the use of smartphones by people ages 65 and older has more than doubled since 2013.
For years, experts have suggested that we work crossword puzzles or Sudoku to keep our brains flexible and sharp. But recent research suggests that acquiring a skill that takes us out of our comfort zone (learning a new language, becoming comfortable with the internet, taking music lessons for an instrument that you don't already play) is a more effective way to "exercise" the brain. Tetris is a good example of technology improving mental acuity (spatial recognition).
But even if you don't want to build your "brain muscles," it's time to accept the fact that technology can be particularly helpful in a variety of ways that we might never have thought about a decade ago. Here are some senior-friendly tech developments:
—Social connection: Video chat interfaces (like Skype) or email and social media sites help seniors keep in touch with friends and family members who are not able to visit. According to UnitedHealthcare's [email protected] survey of centenarians, staying socially connected is as important as genetics when it comes to healthy aging.
—Safety: A Personal Emergency Response System device, or PERS device, allows seniors to call for help with the push of a button. This is particularly important because 80 to 90 percent of older Americans want to stay in their own homes as they age.
—Location monitoring: GPS tracking devices (like AngelSense) can monitor a senior's location and send alerts to caregivers.
—Medication inventory: Smartphone apps can help seniors keep track of their medications. Since most older Americans take at least five different prescription drugs daily, tools like RxmindMe can monitor when drugs need to be taken and refilled.
—Exercise: If going to a gym is not an option, at-home games like Nintendo's Wii Sports are a great option for older adults. Video game systems that are controlled by motions encourage physical activity.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.