Better With Age: Bridge the technology divide

Better With Age: Bridge the technology divide
(File photo)

By Cele Garrett

“There’s an app for that.” That famous phrase from Apple has spawned memes, jokes and even a Sesame Street song.

There is no shortage of technology, and much of it can make our daily lives easier. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that folks who utilize technology have a big advantage over people who don’t feel confident using it or who cannot easily afford it.

Fortunately, technology is becoming less costly for individuals. But other barriers keep many older adults from using technology: Nearly all of us have a personal story about falling victim — or almost falling victim — to a tech-related scam. And, many people feel so frustrated with technology if it doesn’t work easily on the first few tries that they, ultimately, give up on it. For others, physical challenges like poor eyesight or less dexterity in their fingers make using devices difficult. No wonder there is a lot of purchased and unused technology floating around in homes.

First, let’s dispel a myth or two.

Myth: Older people will have a hard time catching up with technology because it’s too far advanced now.

Many older adults left the workforce before technology was fully integrated into daily life, so sometimes this gap in the basic tech technology can pose a hurdle to a new user. It doesn’t mean older people cannot learn or are not willing to. They’re still smart and capable — and many are very motivated. After all, they may have more time now to devote to the effort. This is where friends, family members and neighbors can really help by working with a new user one-on-one.

Myth: Most of today’s technology is built for younger consumers anyway. As a senior, I’m not sure I should even bother.

Some applications seem to be designed for younger users — and it’s not seniors’ fault. Software developers are eager to market their platforms to seniors but, too often, it seems that hardware and software applications were designed without any input from or testing with older adults. But there is good news: This technology is getting more senior-friendly all the time. Just look at new e-readers with larger text and a backlit screen that really make reading easy for those who are sight-impaired. And, there are innumerable ways technology can keep seniors active, safe and independent.

Health management apps downloaded to your smartphone or tablet can monitor such things as blood pressure or blood sugar. Fitness apps can track your activity — and can even send a reminder that it’s time to “get up and stretch your legs.” Nutrition trackers can help you make the right food selections.

Utilizing a home security system can help a senior feel safer if they live alone. There are brain teaser games and many entertainment options on the market — not to mention easy apps for keeping your important information organized and accessible. Digital picture frames can be a wonderful way to store and display your photos. And, of course, there are food delivery programs aplenty — but they all require interacting online.

Technology and automation are here to stay. Telemedicine will remain a part of healthcare. We continually pick and choose which tech gadgets and apps are worth our time and effort, and we drop those that are no longer useful. And, all of us must remain vigilant in our efforts not to fall prey to scams and hacks by sharing accurate knowledge with one another on how best to control our privacy settings.

I urge retail staff and the general public to be patient with older customers while they adapt to new technology — and even help them acclimate to it. When they call in to order food from your restaurant, don’t just say, “We don’t take call-in orders.” Simple instructions on your website can help seniors set up an account with your ordering app and direct them to the site. Or, if you see an older person standing at a ParkMobile meter, downloading the app and attempting to plug in their parking “zone” on their tiny phone screen, kindly ask if you can assist. Ask your older neighbor if there is any technology platform they need help with. After all, you’ll be one of those “older” adults before you know it!

The writer is executive director of At Home in Alexandria, a nonprofit village serving most of the City of Alexandria.