Seniors are more tech-savvy than you might think
The Christmas holiday period is usually the time when the seniors in my extended family descend on me with requests to fix their smartphones or install antivirus software on their computers.
But that stereotype may be shattered this festive season. Seniors, classed as over 50s, embraced digital devices and services like never before during the pandemic lockdowns, as bank branches shut, forcing people online to take care of their finances, and grocery deliveries replaced trips to the supermarket.
It had the cumulative effect of immersing seniors in the digital world to a greater degree. Nearly half of seniors now claim to be ‘tech savvy’, according to the Digital Trends Report 2022, which surveyed 1,129 Kiwis aged over 50. Nine out of 10 New Zealand seniors say they are using technology more today than a year ago.
Source: Digital Trends Report 2022, Seniors New Zealand, CoreData
The report, commissioned by Seniors New Zealand in partnership with consumer research group CoreData, found that the average senior spends 5.3 hours connected to their devices each day, with 65% claiming that doing so helps them go about their day-to-day lives. With an ageing population, that has implications for how apps, digital services, devices and platforms are designed.
"Older people, like people of any age, can learn new skills,” says Karen Billings-Jensen, chief executive of Age Concern.
“Our seniors need the opportunity to acquire and expand their digital literacy as most of them, aged 65 and above, are digital immigrants, which means they did not grow up using the technology available today,” she adds.
When it comes to the key benefits seniors claim to derive from technology, the results aren’t surprising: staying across news updates (64%), making shopping convenient (51%), accessing medical services online (43%) and reducing their loneliness (31%).
Other key insights from the survey:
65% - claim they can keep up with future technological innovation.
77% - say they will always consider adopting new technology.
72% - believe technology has allowed them to be more self-reliant.
41% - say they have embraced modern technologies more due to their experiences through the pandemic.
From Twitter to telemedicine
Keeping connected - with family and friends, as well as what is going on in the world, was cited by 57% of respondents as one of the greatest benefits of technology. With 89% of seniors engaging with social media platforms, they are averaging 9.3 hours a week using them and typically have two social media accounts.
The pandemic spurred the rise of telehealth in New Zealand, with many health experts scheduling video consultancies with patients to lessen the risk of spreading the virus. Now the over 50s see telemedicine as a growing trend with 78% picking there will be a “significant increase in the adoption of telemedicine”. They point to freeing up time taken to travel to and wait for appointments, the convenience and safety of staying at home, and avoiding exposure to illnesses from other patients, as the key benefits of telemedicine.
The challenges seniors face
However, a significant proportion of those over 50 struggle in the digital world, with 50% of survey respondents feeling they are “left behind by modern technology”. Only one in five of them sees dealing with the stereotypes about their capabilities as a problem. Instead, the big issues are using technology safely and securely (69%), understanding how it works (65%), keeping up with changing technology (61%), and buying devices, programs and apps (56%).
Age Concern was one seniors-orientated group that pivoted its services online during the pandemic.
“One example was to make available our Steady As You Go exercise classes on YouTube. We also run digital literacy programmes across New Zealand for anyone wanting support to upskill,” says Billings-Jensen.
“Some of these are one-to-one and intergenerational while others are conducted in group settings where seniors can come along with their buddies and learn face-to-face, which is great for bonding too."
The good news then is that seniors appear to be thriving online. But barriers remain to them keeping up with technology and making the most of it, an opportunity for better accessibility, user interface design and the simplicity that makes for great tech products for everyone.
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