Marci Vandersluis writes the Embrace Your Aging column. TY GREENLEES/STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

A few things that may surprise you about seniors and technology

A few years ago when I wrote about technology of benefit to elders, there was limited interest and adoption by much of the older adult population.

How times have changed.

Take, for example, the smartphone. According to the Pew Research Center, four in 10 seniors own smartphones, which is more than double the number of users than in 2013. In these past few years, more elders have been going online with an estimated 67 percent of adults over 65, plus adults regularly “logging on.” Younger seniors are also using social media with increased frequency. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Skype are very effective in helping to stay in touch with both local and

Younger seniors are also using social media with increased frequency. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Skype are very effective in helping to stay in touch with both local and long-distance friends and family and provide many with the opportunity to reconnect with old acquaintances. This can be very beneficial in helping many to feel less isolated. As elders continue to embrace this new world, technology companies are focusing much of their energies toward addressing interests and preferences of this population.

When conducting a very informal Internet search on technology and older adults, I was presented with pages of results. Furthermore, as reported in Tech Crunch (a leading technology website) “when the App Store debuted in 2008, it grew to 5,000 apps by the end of its first year, and that growth has continued to be explosive ever since. By the end of 2015, it reached 1.75 million apps, and today hosts 2 million apps worldwide.”

One particular area that seems to be of great interest is the technology focused on helping older adults who may be experiencing some memory challenges. There are now, for example, a number of “smart pill boxes” and apps to help remind people about their medication regimen. This might include visual and auditory reminders. This supportive assistance extends beyond the user and can be programmed to alert a family member if a loved one may have forgotten to take prescribed medication. There are now activity sensors that can be placed around the home to provide a family member a “snapshot” of a loved one’s daily routine. Should something seem “off” — such as a suspected fall, or little activity in the home — emergency contacts will be alerted. Although likely somewhat intrusive for the elder, there are now indoor video cameras that enable a loved one’s activity to be monitored on a family member or caregiver’s smartphone.

A recent online posting from the website “Aging in Place Technology Watch” highlighted some exciting new innovations. As seen in a recent episode of the television series “Saturday Night Live,” voice activated technologies can function as a virtual assistant. Among countless other applications, these devices can adjust the thermostat, help to stay informed about current events, provide weather reports, answer questions, create personalized music play lists, and provide reminders of upcoming appointments. It is not too far in the future that these devices will become more interactive with additional capabilities directed toward keeping elders engaged and self-reliant.

Please feel free to email me if you would like additional information on this topic. It is important to note that if there is an understanding that an elder requires supportive assistance, even the most sophisticated technology cannot take the place of a human caregiver.

Marci Vandersluis is a licensed social worker and has a master’s degree in gerontology. She is employed as a care manager assisting older adults in the community connect with needed services. Email: