16 Reasons Why Seniors Struggle with Technology

“This stupid computer drives me crazy!”, “I don’t understand it, why it’s so complicated?” or “Why do I need, in my 60 years old, learn all this?”, these are some of the phrases my mother used to say when we were pushing her to learn some basic computer skills. * Of course, I translated them and I surely edited them a little bit (in reality, her “technology hate” went way further than this).

Mom has always had A LOT of trouble adapting to new technology. Even though I work in IT and I am VERY used to help colleagues with new technology we are constantly implementing in our company, once it took me around one entire hour to explain to her how to switch on her new laptop, and another hour to make her understand how to use each program and app that could be useful to her. Which was fine with me… but what was not so fine is that sometimes she would just get angry because no matter what I was saying it just wouldn’t work for her!

So after thinking about why most seniors struggle so much with technology, I eventually came up with these 16 barriers seniors may encounter to learn computer skills:

  1. Big gap in technology
  2. Lack of perceived benefit or need
  3. Negative feelings about social media
  4. Fear of the unknown
  5. Fear about Internet safety
  6. Computer anxiety
  7. The biological part of the struggle
  8. Tricking memory
  9. Hard to focus
  10. Vision loss
  11. The power of habit
  12. Lack of time
  13. Price
  14. Rushing
  15. Procrastination
  16. Not setting a goal

Help me out with this list! Let me know why YOU struggle with new technology by commenting at the end of this post!

Why Seniors Struggle with New Technology

Seniors in a digital world can be easily overwhelmed by all the new technology that surrounds them. We are all surrounded by a huge variety of digital devices, whether its smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, social media, there’s no avoiding it, so they should learn how to use all these technological advances to make life easier. 

Technology is used in every facet of everyday life because it can provide the speed, connectivity, and efficiency to make tasks easier. Nowadays everyone wants things to be easier and faster and for an older adult, it’s important not to underestimate how technology can help them in their golden years.

But even if the percentage of older adults with computer skills grows every day, a huge chunk of this demographic is still computer illiterate. And while some of them may want to acquire computer skills, there are a number of barriers that often prevent them from acquiring them.

16 Reasons Why Seniors Struggle with New Technology: Barriers Seniors May Encounter to Learn Computer Skills

1. Big gap in technology

Our world became digital. Older adults were in their twenties when the first mobile phones started to come on the market. They didn’t grow up with a cell phone or a smartphone in hand, the gadgets in their times were quite simple. Computers were big, phones had wires, cars used gas and to watch a movie you would go to the cinema. Now with the internet and all the smart devices you can replace almost all types of equipment from the past with only one. A simple laptop nowadays is much more powerful than some secret research computers from the 80s and it weighs just 2 pounds. Life now is way different than in their youth days. The gap is huge, it becomes bigger every day, and seniors just can’t catch up.  

2. Lack of perceived benefit or need

Some seniors who are not using the Internet don’t think they would get much out of doing so (Gitlow, 2014). Seniors tend to be very task-oriented when learning computer skills and need to understand exactly what the benefit of learning technology will be before they are motivated to do it (Callahan, Kiker & Cross, 2003).

3. Negative feelings about social media

Older adults who have not used social media may have very negative views about using a computer for social purposes (Vroman, Arthanat & Lysack, 2015). Older adults dislike social networking in part because they fear it will have a negative effect on their face-to-face social interactions. They may be frustrated that communication modes have changed so drastically from phone calls and personal visits to emails, WhatsApp and Skype. It may help to point out that seniors who do venture into social networking have reported benefits in terms of social connectedness and increased interactions as some seniors now set up Skype or Facetime sessions with their grandchildren, rather than waiting for the eventual phone call (Gatto & Tak, 2008).

4. Fear of the unknown

As humans, we have been always afraid of the unknown. During the evolution, humans who were leaving their area were risking to be attacked by a bear or a tiger or got into place without water, food or shelter. This caused a higher mortality rate between them and the number of people returning back after long trips or doing new activities was very low. This is why being afraid of something that we didn’t do before terrifies us. Our adrenaline level jumps up placing us in the prehistoric era and engaging our animal instincts to survive. Our heart starts beating like a hammer, our muscles become tense and ready to run or fight. And because our animal side is activated our brain becomes cloudy, we think just about how we can escape this situation. Being afraid is part of our DNA.

5. Fear about Internet safety

Some seniors may be afraid of putting any personal information on a computer and won’t want to learn computer skills until they feel safe going online (Fausset, Harley, Farmer & Fain, 2013). This can be addressed early on by talking about Internet safety and best practices, such as creating strong passwords, adjusting privacy settings, and not posting personal information such as physical address or vacation dates in social media.

6. Computer anxiety

Many seniors are fearful they will break the computer and may be extremely hesitant to touch the computer or to “play around” with the computer. That anxiety will make it difficult to learn the necessary skills. You should try to show your seniors that the computers are not as fragile as they thought.

7. The biological part of the struggle

Another part of the puzzle is our brain. It’s a separate alive mechanism which changes and evolves every second of our life. Inside our brain there are millions of connections happening every second, It’s by far the most sophisticated computer.

When our body becomes older our biological processes change and it can affect our brains as well. These changes can affect mental function, even in healthy older people. For example, some older adults find that they don’t do as well as younger people on complex memory or learning tests.

There are some researches that prove that our brain functions start to decline from the mid-20s. According to Harvard Medical school: “Some brain areas, including the hippocampus, shrink in size. The myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibbers wears down, which can slow the speed of communication between neurons.”

8. Tricking memory

It’s very uncommon for seniors to forget their keys in the house and spend some time trying to find them. Unfortunately, this is another drawback of aging. As we age, we start to forget a lot of things that we don’t use in our day-to-day life.

I will tell you more: the memory needs some exercise too, but we mostly finish using it extensively after we graduate from college. In our lives and jobs, we barely get to the same level of intensity as we had in school (to learn more about this topic, read our post “10 Easy Ways to Improve Memory for Seniors”.

That’s why it’s very understandable why after 20-30 years of not adopting any new tech we have big troubles to figure out how to use an iPhone. A memory challenge is one of the hardest possible. Everybody knows the feeling that you know something but you just can’t remember. It’s like torture, like our brain takes us in hostages.

However, some stimulation can dramatically increase our memory and tech is one of them. New technology can help seniors to keep their memory fresh and agile.

9. Hard to focus

But it didn’t stop there. One more reason why it’s difficult for seniors to adapt to new gadgets is a lack of focus. This is something that we all experience when we need to learn or understand a subject that we are not quite excited about.

Our brain is constantly trying to jump around and think about dozens of events happening around us. We think about what we gonna do next, about groceries, kids, a phone call that we need to make, passing car, somebody’s loud conversation. We leave in the world of distraction and because this world changed so much in the last 30 years it’s even harder for seniors to deal with it.

10. Vision loss

Affecting an incredible number of Americans, vision loss can be as varied as the seniors who experience it – from simply the need to don a pair of reading glasses to total blindness. And it’s very common in older adults, with one in every three elders over age 65 experiencing some form of eye disease that impacts vision, like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, among others. This makes difficult to be able to use technology.

11. The power of habit

The power of habit is one of the strongest features of humanity. Waking up, having a cup of coffee, taking the same road to work. We do it over and over again even without thinking. Being a senior means that we used the same phone with a wire for 40-50 years or watching the same TV with the same TV channels.

It’s hard to adapt something new when you used to some old technology that still works and you are comfortable with. The elderly have a long relationship with simple things that are now replaced with new smart devices, each of these devices requires some learning process. 

12. Lack of time

Learning something new takes some time and usually, this is what we don’t have. Each of us has some routines and finding some extra time can be a big challenge. In plus learning is a process and it requires a lot of time invested upfront before you can feel the benefits. Time management is a crucial piece of a puzzle if you want to succeed.

13. Price

New tech is not always cheap, sometimes it’s quite pricey. New phones and computers can cost up to a thousand dollars and it can be a very big barrier if you want to adopt new tech. It’s not easy for retired people to buy an expensive device when they have to pay for their mortgage and groceries.

14. Rushing

Rushing is one of the issues when the seniors get excited about some specific technology but they are not ready for a learning curve. They get disappointed when they realize the complexity of new gadgets or smart devices and give up right before starting to understand it.

15. Procrastination

This is a good one and we all fall for it! Procrastination is the worse enemy of the elderly with all their routines and habits. It’s to seducing to say that we start learning new tech tomorrow and when tomorrow comes we just put it off. We find thousands of excuses just to not start it on.

16. Not setting a goal

If you don’t know what you want to achieve in one week, one month or one year is hard to get there. Goal setting is essential to managing your time well, especially if we want to adopt new technology. The right goal helps you to fight distractions and be more focused. As a result, you can achieve greater results.

Great Intro Easy-to-use Devices for Seniors

If I would choose the best kind of device to start learning about technology I would definitely go with a tablet.

Why should you choose a tablet to start with?

Because the tablets are just convenient, they are portables, and they have easy-to-use features (at least way easier than a computer). By the way, that’s just as true for senior citizens as it is for all age groups. Tablets offer plenty of computing power in a sleek, impressive package.

Some of the most important tablet features:

  •  Tablets work differently than laptops. Laptops and desktop computers use an operating system, while tablets run on the same technology that powers smartphones. You may find that a table performs more like a souped-up smartphone than like a computer.
  • Tablets offer different features than laptops. Laptop computers offer the same computing power as a desktop unit but in a lightweight, portable model. Tablets, on the other hand, can perform only a fraction of the functions of a laptop. But I guess all the things seniors want to do, such as browsing the web, using Social Media, taking and watching pictures, reading a book, and watching movies, can be easily done on the tablet.
  •  Tablets use a touchscreen to receive inputs. Most of the tablets do not come with a keyboard or a mouse. Of course you can add these features as accessories later, if you want to.
  • Tablets offer a wide range of screen resolutions and sizes. In general, seniors should choose the largest screen they can afford to make viewing, surfing and reading easier.
  • Tablets offer a wide range of internal memory capacity. Because seniors usually don’t also have a laptop (or an external memory), the internal memory should be big enough to keep all the pictures and videos seniors like to keep.

But which tablet should you buy?

Apple’s iPad was the standard tablet for a long time, but newer models made by Amazon, Samsung and many other companies offer great features at attractive prices.

Taking into account various features, budgets, and potential special needs for hearing and vision accommodations, I’ve made a short list of the top 3 best tablet suggestions for seniors.

Best Tablet: New Apple iPad Pro 

  • Display Size: 12.9-inch (biggest display available on the market)
  • Display Type: Edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display with ProMotion, True Tone, and P3 wide color
  • Internal Storage:
  • Camera: 12 MP Wide camera, 10 MP Ultra Wide camera, and LiDAR Scanner,7 MP TrueDepth front camera
  • Sound: Four speaker audio and five studio-quality microphones
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours of battery life
  • With USB-C connector for charging and accessories
  • Support for Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio, and Apple Pencil

Check this tablet on Amazon.

Best Overall: SAMSUNG SM-T860NZALXAR Galaxy

  • Display Size: 10.5″
  • Display Type: edge-to-edge super Amoled display
  • Internal Storage: 128 or 256 GB
  • Camera: 8 MP front
  • Sound: Quad speakers tuned by AKG
  • Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
  • All-new S Pen included. Now the included S Pen lets you pause and skip at the press of the button. Plus, you can still mark up papers, sign docs and take notes. The S Pen even attaches magnetically for easy storage and charging.Bluetooth profiles:A2DP,AVRCP,DI,HID,HOGP,HSP,OPP,PAN
  • Bluetooth v5.0 (LE up to 2 Mbps).

Check this tablet on Amazon.

Best Value: Fire HD 10 Tablet

  • Display Size: 10.1″
  • Display Type: 1080p full HD display
  • Internal Storage: 32 or 64 GB of internal storage (add up to 512 GB with microSD)
  • Camera: 2 MP front and rear-facing cameras with 720p HD video recording
  • Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
  • With USB-C for faster charging.  Includes a USB-C cable & 9W power adapter in the box.
  • Hands-free with Alexa, including on/off toggle.

Check this tablet on Amazon.

The Bottom Line

These are the main reasons seniors struggle with technology. But aside from these significant barriers seniors may face, there is another very common one: seniors often mention the lack of instructions and guidance. So why not teach mom and dad the basics so they can do all they need without asking for you to intervene? The world has evolved, and it is becoming more and more important for seniors to keep learning.

* After reading this post, we would appreciate you sharing your experience with us. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive more content from us. We really hope you enjoy!

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Comments

  1. I have been with several people who no matter how hard or long they try they just can’t seem to understand how to use a smart phone, it’s like it just don’t sink in. I was 52 years old when I got my first smart phone and I couldn’t put it down until I figured it out! It wasn’t long before I had my first laptop and I have not had much trouble with any of this and I am now 64 years old. People my own age can’t understand how to use a smart phone! I just don’t get it.

    1. We hear you! We know too many seniors who just don’t get tecnology. We know it’s all new for them that’s why e try to simplify as much as we can in this site.

  2. I definitely agree that old people are usually afraid of giving away their personal information especially if it will be placed on the internet. It doesn’t help in my case though, since my grandmother wants to send a bouquet to her distant friend through an online website. It might be better if she’ll just hire personal shopping services that are tailored to help seniors like her for errands like this.

    1. Oh, I see your point. But maybe it would also be good for her to realize she could do it by herself. It’s really worth a try! Anyway… at the end of the day, you know best what suits you guys. I am glad you reach out. Hope the article was helpful.

  3. I am here after spending 55 minutes to help my 89 year old uncle at reading an sms, since he got a new phone. I live in a country were people who were children at the 50s and 60s had no access to technology at all during their development stage, but they got access to technology as young adults. I now believe that this caused the human brain to have a different perception of interaction with technology. Having to support many senior relatives at using (even simple) mobile phones or multimedia devices, its is clear to me that they do not carry the knowledge of using one device, to using it on another. They understand that “ the third button of the cd player, is for playing music” and not that “the button marked by a triangle, is for playback”. Thus they continue to struggle with any new devise they use. And although they have managed in their lives greater things, like making a family, building a home, setting up a business, they cannot grasp the concept of user interface, virtual desktop, or even simple multimedia playback. Since the devices stopped associating individual buttons with individual settings at the 2000s the problem became more obvious. Thus I believe that there is a neurological factor, that is associated with using technology when the brain is in development stage during childhood. I am wondering if there is any official research on that.

    1. Hi Konstantinos,

      I know what you mean. I am now spending time in a country just like the one you described. My 78yo mother lives in Brazil and I’ve decided to come and help her out during pandemic times. It’s been hard teaching her how to order things online daily (since we are self isolating and we have to rely on deliveries).
      And I completely agree with you: I also believe that people who were not used to technology while growing up may have a different perception of interaction with technology today. It’s just natural. I am now in my late 30s and I already feel that kids half my age understand new technologies way faster than I do. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn, it’s just a bigger challenge, that’s all.

      And, by the way, there are many researchers about that, and I’ve already read some interesting ones.

      Keep up doing the great work you’ve been doing with your uncle. I am sure he appreciates it. And keep in touch, we would love to hear how the learning goes. Cheers!

  4. I am an old guy and you just can’t even begin to realize the frustration I feel when getting on my laptop it worked yesterday, and poof without any seeming reason it changed from doing the things it did a certain way just yesterday. If something is right why in the world would you do something else? But programs come out and there are 10 different ways to get to the same place and they tend to change without anyone informing you. I agree with the author of this little article there is definitely some narrow mindedness on my part. I do have a learning curve but no matter how hard I try it just doesn’t seem to soak in. However I recognize I have advanced from the flip top phone to an iPhone and iPad. Here’s what I feel the problem may be. When I was young we were taught to do the same things the same way and it would always work out. That is the training our minds got “in the old days.” After graduating high school I went to work in construction and guess what? Everything I learned, the skills I developed, all came about by practice and doing things the same way until I got it, until I understood it, until it became second nature to me. I was never so dern lazy that I couldn’t get my butt off the couch to change the channel, turn up the volume, or shut it off if I was so inclined. I memorized phone numbers dozens of them if not many more. But you know what? If I pushed them little buttons on the phone or even earlier dialed the right number with the old rotary phone and I might add, did it every time the same cotton picken way I actually and miraculously got the phone number I was trying to get. Now there are three remotes to make my TV (that’s what we called it in the olden days) work. Why? One I think would be fine but even on something as simple as changing the channel it takes three?
    I know there is more to it than that but you get my point and Lordy don’t let the power or the internet fail for even a blip. Then I get to call my poor son-in -law. I’m honestly interested in finding out why it’s such a problem but it really comes down to the way we were trained to learn. That’s what I think anyway!

    1. Hi Don,

      Thanks for this heartfelt message. Believe me, I hear you. And I completely understand your frustration. I am a not-so-old-yet woman on my late 30s and I already feel myself in disadvantage when comparing my tech abilities with kids half my age. I guess it’s just the way it is… I am sure you are pretty good in things you got used to do when you were young but these new technologies… are not from your (or even mine) time.

      I am one of the creators of this website and our intention with it was to make new technology a little bit more accessible to older people. I am sure you are not lazy and you look interested in keeping up with the trend, so I know you can get there.

      I have two examples close to me that are opposites when considering new technology learning: my father used to try all kinds of new devices, he would spend hours, even days, try to really get them. It was inspiring to me how a 70-something-old guy was so interested in all these new “cool stuff” available on the market. My mom is the opposite, all she wants is a simple remote control for her TV (they exist, by the way, we have a post about them: “Do Seniors Need a Special TV Remote Control?”) and an easy-to-use smartphone (also have a post about phone for seniors: “Do Seniors Really Need Smartphones?”). You are on the right track. Keep calling your son-in-law, I am sure he is happy to help you out. Or write me, I will be happy to help you out too. Thanks again for contacting us! Keep in touch. Cheers!

  5. It’s obvious you kids have No clue recognizing defective & hard to impossible to use so called quality of life improving technology…It’s also obvious that seniors are Not included in the Alpha & Beta stage product development…..Thank God vitally important household devices such as cook stove, sink, hot & cold water, bath & shower, toilet & the wall light switch Haven’t gone Digital yet, but I’m sure you know-it-alls Are working to screw that up like you did to standard tv channels ! If it’s not intuitive natural easy to use i don’t Want the aggravation !! …When we really want to reach out to our sons & daughters for help or just chat, you’re too busy to take the call !! Give me back the normal 1950’s to 80’s when life was simpler, happy, affordable & control knobs & hard buttons were good enough !!

    1. Hey, I completely understand where you are coming from. I understand all the anger. I say that because, being a Milennial, I sometimes get frustrated with all the “new inventions” of gen Z. Inventions I can’t really get and that (my point of view here) are somewhat irrelevant and unnecessary – since we’ve been all living very well without them. So why bother to learn how to use them?

      But at the end of the day I know all these new things (or at least most of them) have a point. They were invented because someone, somewhere, found them useful. So why not give it a try?!

      And I hear you when you talk about your children and grandchildren who are not patient enough or simple don’t “have time” to spend explaining these new technologies to you. I am guilty as charged. I see myself sometimes in the situation where I roll my eyes to my almost 80yo mother when she ask for the 100th time how to use the Whatsapp camera, or how to check our new pictures on Instagram. But most of the time I redeem myself, I try to keep in mind that she once was the one standing by me from day one, taking care of me and making sure I would learn everything I needed to learn to develop myself. So I see these exchanges as a payback and we usually spend a lot of time together checking “new technology stuff”. And we actually have fun with all this.

      I tell you what… next time you have a question or want to talk about any challenges you’ve been having because some new technology, why don’t you contact me and I will make sure to help you out (even if it’s just to listen to you).

      Thanks for your feedback… all kind of feedback are extremely important for me. They make my day. It means you are reading my posts. So thank you again for taking the time. Have a wonderful day!

  6. The long illusive “manual” must reappear into an aging society that never grew up, and along with technology. Manuals must be written in forms that are understandable for a non tech background, in addition to the senior brain. No easy task, but absolutely necessary.

    1. Hello Tamara, thanks for your comment! I completely agree with you! There are so many manuals out there that are so hard to understand for a non-tech person.. it ends up making things seem more complicated than it really is. Cheers!

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