According to a recent AARP study 90% of adults over 50 own a computer, 40% own a tablet, and 70% own a smartphone. Computers are used for traditional tasks, tablets for streaming videos or playing games and smartphones are used for texts, emails and to get directions and traffic information.
Tech savvy senior citizens, or computer literate Baby Boomers, are called “technogenarians”. The Baby Boom generation is presently online at work, at play and in transit via cell phones and is expected to remain online significantly increasing the population of technogenarians.
Text messaging, email and social media allow more than 90% of older adults to stay in touch with friends and family but there are other useful purposes of gerontechnology.
Gerontechnology, (the term was coined in the 1990’s), is the designing technology and environment for independent living and social participation of older persons in good health, comfort and safety. Presently designers, architects, applications engineers and social and natural science researchers all work to develop technology that integrates seamlessly into daily life.
Preconceived ideas about what older adults need or desire in terms of technology impact the research and development of technology. If it’s assumed that as part of aging a person will be confined primarily to home with reduced mobility and opportunity to meet people, then technology is developed to accommodate that scenario. If the expectation is one of activity and social engagement as we age, then technology is designed to meet those needs. Ideally the relationship between technology and the user will be unique, interruption –free and integrated into daily routines.
Gerontechnology also offers brain training programs that work on cognitive impairment due to dementia, stroke and traumatic brain injury and can monitor and tailor a rehabilitation (or cognitive maintenance) program for each individual “on the fly”.
Physical rehabilitation also uses technology. Many of us are familiar with wearable technology that can measure our movements, activity level and vital signs. Although there is a great opportunity in wearable technology it is less likely to be used by older adults. The second type of technology connects a piece of equipment to software that can provide feedback. Bike pedals connected to a computer can allow you to participate in a virtual bike race!
Robotic pets are being used to provide “cognitive support during the execution of activities of daily living”, to play cognitive games and to stimulate memory as well as to monitor the potential of fall risk behavior in the older adults.
There are support groups and webchats online from the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Society to Parkinson’s disease. There are also many sites to assist with online dating over the age of 55.
Across the board, older adults have less confidence in the security of their online information. Despite this, many adults over 50 don’t take steps to secure their data such as using passwords and then updating them every few months. Microsoft and Apple will NEVER call you to get access to your computer to install an update. DO NOT share your passwords with anyone and do not open emails from anyone you don’t know.
Kathy Casey-Kirschling, the nation’s first baby boomer, applied for social security online.
Gerontechnology will allow current and future technogenarians to age in place and stay connected to their loved ones and the community.