Will Your Grandparents Be More Tech Savvy Than You?

Danielle Beurteaux

She has 225,000 followers on Twitter, and 1.6 million on Instagram, as of this writing. She’s 87-year old Baddie Winkle (IRL name Helen Van Senior couple standing by riverbank during bicycle tour, Mainz, GermanyWinkle; tagline: “Stealing your man since 1928”), social media darling, style icon, and example of what the age of the New Seniors looks like.

Recognizing the impending surge of seniors about to turn 65, and the potential market they represent, tech companies are launching products aimed at this demographic.

But while tech for seniors has often been limited to big-button, featureless cellphones, condescension, and a belief that older people can’t learn anything new, this generations of retirees will be the first to have engaged with technology throughout a good deal of their adult lives, personally and professionally. Which means that the New Seniors are going to be tech-engaged in a way previous generations simply weren’t – and that’s going to change the experience of being a senior for everyone.

Seniors are using more tech

Recent Pew Research Center studies show the increasing use of technology by seniors. While it still lags the rest of the adult U.S. population, the subset of seniors who are younger, educated, and have higher incomes is the group with the highest tech use. Many seniors don’t feel confident enough to learn unfamiliar technologies without help, a barrier to adoption if there’s no one to teach them. This is a basic accessibility problem. But this is a barrier that’s likely to dissolve once the generation of heavy tech users passes the 65-year mark.

Another Pew study found that the majority of seniors who own smartphones consider them liberating; 2014 was also the first year that more than 50% of seniors was on Facebook. So the adoption numbers are on an upswing.

Tech and aging in place

The New Senior is aging in place for a few reasons. They want to, for one, and another is the lack of options for many seniors. Technology will be intrinsic in helping many of these seniors continue to live connected, healthy lives.

A recent study made a correlation between tech use by seniors and their improved cognitive abilities, compared with a similar group 10 years ago. Seniors also want health technology available to them in their homes, whether that’s managing their personal health records, accessing telemedicine, or participating in online communities.

The connected (retirement) home

But even beyond healthcare, the tech options for seniors are growing, thanks to some of Silicon Valley’s biggest. There are monitors that send activity alerts, caregiver marketplaces, and activity trackers designed for seniors.

Regardless of whether seniors decide to remain in their homes for as long as they can or move to assisted living facilities or communities of some sort, technology is going to play an enormous role. Like a retirement community that’s using Internet of Things-enabled devices, bringing peace-of-mind to the residents and the staff.

Accessibility

For seniors, physical accessibility to technology differs little from other, non-technology aspects. Vision degeneration means difficulty reading small print; disorders like arthritis mean opening packaging can be tough. These are the challenges that technology providers need to help alleviate by designing, for example, packaging that’s easy to access.

The New Senior is going to use technology to help with health issues, avoid isolation, maintain connections with friends and family, keep learning, and maintain a level of intellectual stimulation. Maybe the bigger challenge will be adjusting non-seniors’ attitudes to the tech abilities of the New Seniors.

For more on what our future will look like, read 99 Mind-Blowing Ways The Digital Economy Is Changing The Future Of Business.


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.