A decade or so ago, it wasn't uncommon to hear someone say they don't have a cell phone. Now the thought of being without a mobile device is practically unheard of, whether you're 8 or 80 years old. As mobile technology has become increasingly widespread, usage is saturating both the younger and older demographics.
When it comes to seniors, technology can serve as so much more than a means to send text messages to friends. Cell phones and mobile devices can be a direct link to valuable health information as well as a lifeline in emergencies and a connection to the outside world.
Today, no one blinks an eye when teens remark that they're "texting Grandma." It's become the norm, and seniors are embracing the value of technology more than ever before. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, nearly 9 out of 10 (87 percent) senior citizens use email and search engines. Back in 2009, Nielsen reported that six million more seniors were using the internet than in 2004 -- today, it's nearly four years later and seniors' use of technology shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.
Pew Internet's research offers useful insights
Casey Dowd, who writes for The Boomer column at Fox Business, spoke with Mary Madden, senior research specialist at the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project (and co-author of Pew Internet's recent survey on older adults using the internet) to find out what Madden thinks of the group's recent findings.
Madden says she believes older demographics are embracing the power of social networking as a way to stay connected to friends and family -- both near and far. Madden points out that social media adoption is a "trickle-up" effect, with younger family members being early adopters and encouraging older relatives to take advantage of the benefits technology offers.
Pew Internet's research shows that adults over the age of 50 say staying in touch with family is the primary reason they use social media. Facebook remains the number one social network among older adult users, with LinkedIn falling in a distant second. It's worth mentioning, however, that Boomers comprise LinkedIn's primary user base.
New devices offer ease of use for seniors
About half of adults 65 and older have access to the internet; among them, more than 8 out of 10 (82 percent) are online at least once during an average day. With internet use among the elderly becoming so widespread, younger generations are encouraging them to use modern devices which offer more functionality and increased mobility. Smartphones, for instance, offer internet access but can also be easily carried in a pocket or purse. In an emergency, these devices are much more useful than a desktop PC.
Family members are also increasingly purchasing iPads and other tablet devices for older relatives -- especially those who primarily use them to browse the web, send emails and stay in touch via social networking. Tablets are even more practical in many cases than laptops thanks to their easy configuration and use. Sure, you can use a laptop while you're sitting on the couch, but wouldn't you rather be using a lighter-weight tablet?
Technology enhances quality of life
The increasing use of technology among older adults isn't merely a passing trend. Mobile devices help seniors:
- Stay in touch with long-distance friends and family
- Track health and wellness
- Email a physician with a non-emergent question
- Keep track of appointments
- Read the local and national news
- Enhance their social circles
- Get involved with local groups and activities
- Improve socialization
- And much more