“This stupid computer drives me crazy, I just don’t get it!”, this is one of the phrases my mother used to say when we were pushing her to learn some basic computer skills. * Of course, I translated it myself and I surely edited it 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 the elderly struggle so much with technology, I eventually came up with these 16 barriers seniors may encounter to learn computer skills:
- Big gap in technology
- Lack of perceived benefit or need
- Negative feelings about social media
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear about Internet safety
- Computer anxiety
- The biological part of the struggle
- Tricking memory
- Hard to focus
- Vision loss
- The power of habit
- Lack of time
- 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!
Keep reading this post to know more about not only these barriers, but also about why seniors should learn technology, how does it really affects the elderly, how many older adults actually use technology in their daily lives, and the increasing tech polarization
Why the Elderly 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 the Elderly 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.
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.
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.
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.
Why Should Seniors Learn Technology?
In short, technology isn’t just something seniors have to learn to accept – it’s actually something that can make life more convenient, easier and more fun.
Embracing technology can help older people to improve their physical and mental well-being, as well as their social lives. Apps and social media can help to prevent loneliness, whilst the internet can help make it easier to shop and to manage your bills.
Therefore, by using technology to create a life seniors love, they will be happier, healthier and have a higher quality of life overall.
How does technology affect the elderly?
From the results of the present study, it is evident that the use of new technologies by the elderly population significantly contributes to a better quality of life, improving parameters of daily living such as transportation facilitation, communication and participation in social life.
How many older adults use technology?
In the United States, according to Pew Research’s Tech Adoption Among Older Adults, fully 58% of adults ages 65 and older say technology has had a mostly positive impact on society, while roughly three-quarters of internet-using seniors say they go online on a daily basis – and nearly one in 10 go online almost constantly.
In Canada, an AGE-WELL poll conducted by Environics Research shows that two-thirds (65%) of Canadians aged 65 and older now own a smartphone, compared to 58% in 2019, and most who own one (83%) use it daily.
Increasing tech polarization: The 5 Emerging Senior Tech Segments. Which One Are You?
I recently read a blog post about the insights based on an Ericsson ConsumerLab study on the different tech seniors segments emerging this last couple of years. The study focus on so-called ‘young-old’ seniors aged 65-74 who used the internet in 2019, just before the Corona crisis developed in eight countries (US, Brazil, Germany, Italy, UK, Sweden, China and Japan). And also including insights from an extensive Covid-19 study conducted in 2020, making it possible to analyze both the seniors´ life before and during the pandemic. This was a huge study, representative for approximately 200 million seniors, and I would like to share some interesting results I read with you.
The purpose of the ConsumerLab senior study was to investigate how the so-called young-old seniors – who still have relatively good health and are still mobile – used the internet before and during the crisis. The study also maps their expectations and fears of getting older, and uncovers their interests in different tech solutions that solve their daily issues. But what seemed most interesting to me, is that the study points out an increasing tech polarization and the emergence of 5 emerging senior segments.
* Note that the study does not cover the ‘middle-old’ (75-85 years) or the ‘oldest-old’ seniors (86+ years) and their particular life situation, as many would be living in a form of elderly care where their health would be closely controlled and monitored due to their health issues, dementia or a low grade of mobility.
A cluster analysis from Ericsson ConsumerLab study identified five different senior segments mainly based on their interaction with their devices and their usage of internet activities. Two of these senior segments were identified as being relatively slow in their uptake of devices and usage of internet activities. Those two groups are called the ‘old traditionalists’ and the ‘striving pensioners’.
1. Old Tradicionalists
Characteristics for the ‘old traditonalists’ include the fact that many of them don’t have any children. Therefore, they don’t have much contact with younger people who would push them to get a new gadget (a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone) and teach them how to properly use it. Members of this senior segment have fewer devices than average seniors, and they do fewer online and offline activities compared to the average senior. Consequently, they don’t use Social media and don’t use WhatsApp or other ways of easy communication aside from a landline. In fact, they still rely mainly on landlines. More often, they claim that they feel alone and that they don’t see their relatives so often.
Across the surveyed countries, this senior group consists of about 20% of the seniors.
2. Striving Pensioners
Similarly, fewer of the ‘striving pensioners’ have children. They’re more likely to live alone than the average senior, and they often have more health problems or have financial restrictions that limit their quality of life. Members of this segment also have relatively few devices, but on the other hand, they watch TV on a TV screen more often than others. So although they see the technological revolution around them as spectators but don’t really join the trend.
This segment makes up 26% of the seniors.
Striving pensioners and old traditionalist are the two segments who use internet the least. Together, they make up almost half of the internet-using young-old seniors, and are most at risk of falling behind even further when new technology is introduced to the market.
3. Sociable Grandparents
More than the average, the senior segment called ‘sociable grandparents’ are often married, have kids, and likely to live in apartments. The name also reveals that they socialize with friends more than the average senior. In fact, they’re less likely than other seniors to think that they will be lonelier the older they get.
They use Skype, Whatsapp and Instagram – just like my own mother does – and this way, they can keep in touch with their friends and families – including younger grandchildren. My mother, for instance, sees and speaks with her youngest granddaughter (my 2-year-old daughter) every day, even though we are 10.000km apart! Here is a definetely sociable grandparent!
Regarding devices and usage of internet activities, they are on an average level.
This segment consists of 25% of the young-old seniors.
The two remaining segments, also about a 3 in 10 of all seniors, are the two segments that have and use devices and internet activities more than on average.
4. Mature Life Connoisseurs
We call the first of these segments the ‘mature life connoisseurs’. They are often married, and they define themselves more often than not, by being well educated and having a higher than average income. This reflects in the kind of life they lead, since they consume more, socialize with friends more, and to larger extent, exercise more than the average senior.
They also drive a car and use all kinds of devices more, from smartphones and tablets, to internet TV and connected home alarms. For them, life is a pleasure. But they’re also very aware of what’s going on in society, like being aware of climate change.
Mature life connoisseurs account for around 13% of the seniors aged 65-74 years across the countries surveyed.
5. Ageing Techies
Last but not least, say hello to the ‘ageing techies’. This segment does not primarly use devices and the internet for usage purposes for example. Their main driver is an interest in the technology itself. They are relatively often well educated, active, they more often make money from their hobby, consume more, socialize with friends more often, but also show an excitement for technology.
This is the exact description of my father. He used to purchase new gadgets just for the curiosity to see how it worked. When I was growing up, he was always watching these channels that introduce new incredible (most of all useless!) devices for sale, and he was a regular client… it was actually a joke back home!
In principal, they have more devices and use internet more often that average, many times, even more than younger people. Being tech interested also reflects on the fact that they have and use smart speakers more often than others in their household. Talking to machines, after all, is such a curious and amazing invention! (it drives them crazy excited!).
The segment is 16% of the young-old seniors in the surveyed countries.
It’s important to notice the growing gap between the segments mentioned above that can be shown in different ways. The ageing techies are unique; using the internet more often, followed by the mature connoisssieurs. The other three senior segments use internet services less frequently. And the tendency is for this gap to grow with time.
So, what kind of tech senior are you? Do you use technology more than most of your pals? Are you curious about it? Or you are mostly afraid of it and this is not appealing at all? Let me know your thoughts!
Great Intro Easy-to-use Devices for the Elderly
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.
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