Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Senior Myth Busters!


MYTH:  Older Adults Resist New Technology

FACT:    Evidence of technological advances are unescapable. Whether using a smartphone, an e-reader, or a computerized kiosk required for flight check-in or a medical appointment, using technology is required for many everyday functions. Yet many misconceptions exist regarding older adults’ use of technology.  Specifically, many believe that older adults are not interested in using technology; the use of technology by older adults provokes anxiety and elicits poor attitudes; and, finally that older adults are simply unable to learn new technologies. Research findings paint a very different picture.

While it’s true that older adults report using technology less than younger cohorts, adults over the age of 60 are the fastest growing segment of internet users. Many express concern about identity theft or a loss of actual human connection when using technology for activities such as personal finance management or making purchases online. However, personal relevance and value seem to outweigh concerns as older adults report use of a variety of technological devices in their everyday lives to make life easier, to allow them to be more efficient, and for communication purposes.

Several studies have examined the ability of older adults’ to learn new technology.  Findings suggest that younger individuals may be able to acquire hi-tech skills quicker; however, the differences are marginal. It appears that with equal levels of prior experience, older adults learn just as quickly.  In cases with unequal experience levels, older adults are able to develop the same skills and perform just as well as their younger counterparts with training.  Studies suggest that older adults may learn better when they are able to study at their own pace and have interaction with trainers. With regard to anxiety about using technology, younger individuals reported similar levels of anxiety as older adults when learning about a new technological device or software.
Even older adults with functional limitations are taking advantage of new technologies which promote independence and self-management.  For example, assistive technologies such as devices that promote better sight, canes that assist with balance and gait, as well as amplification devices to aid in hearing are already on the market.  In severe cases, technological assistive devices may prevent the need for home-based health care and even nursing home placement for older adults.

Therefore, in a time where people are living longer, choosing to work longer, and maintain autonomy and independence by aging in their own homes, older adults’ use of technology will likely continue to expand. Thus, given what we now know about older adults’ abilities to learn new technologies as well as their interests and attitudes, this demographic should not be depicted as technology resistant.  On the contrary, older adults offer technology developers opportunity-they are the leading consumer base over the next two decades!  
                      
From the Florida Council on Aging, who would like to thank Kathy Hyer, PhD; Kelly M. Smith and the Policy Exchange Center at USF,  for this Myth-Information submission.

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