While technology use amongst older adults has increased dramatically in recent years, it is clear that there is room for improvement in this generation’s technology literacy. In other words, they may have the devices, but can they fully utilize them?
A recent study at the University of California San Diego addressed how new technologies may impact senior’s abilities to “age in place”. Unsurprisingly, researchers found that seniors’ frustration with new technology hampered their motivation to use it. If the goal is increased engagement for seniors with enriching technology, we have to address the user experience.
Learning new things can be tough, especially when it feels like everyone else around you has already got the hang of it. For many seniors, the prospect of implementing technology into their lives after decades of living without it may feel daunting. Equally, younger senior living community staff may feel unprepared for the task of teaching residents how to use both personal tech tools and existing tools at the communities. But don’t worry, there is hope! With some patience and guidance, this process can be truly fulfilling for all involved. With that said, here are some specific tips for teaching seniors how to use technology in your community.
1.Gauge their interest and experience levels
Before diving into the teaching, it’s a good idea to take some time to assess the resident’s interests and experiences with technology. If you jump in assuming the resident has no idea how to do anything with technology, you run the risk of sounding patronizing. On the other hand, if you start teaching at too high a level, the resident may get overwhelmed or frustrated and dismiss the process altogether. Moreover, this conversation will allow you to gauge how enthusiastic they are about the process.
2.Tailor it to their needs
Once you’ve got a sense of their interests, you’ll be able to tailor your teaching to their specific needs. In this way, you’ll be able to create more excitement and interest, especially for those holdouts who may be more hesitant to embrace technology into their lives. After spending most of their lives without technology, residents might not understand what it has to offer them. You’ll want to explain the relevance of the technology and its specific applications for their lives before diving into the nitty-gritty details. It’s also helpful to get a sense of how the resident learns best. Are they visual or kinesthetic learners?
3.Choose your language and tone carefully
Throughout the process, it’s important to keep in mind that certain tech vocabulary younger generations commonly use may be completely foreign to older adults. Using this jargon may be alienating to senior residents, so get creative and try to find other ways to describe certain things. As previously mentioned, you’ll want to choose an encouraging tone and avoid sounding patronizing as some seniors might feel discomfort at the prospect of being so new to something later in life.
This might be the most important tip on our list. Learning new things can be frustrating at any age, but especially for older adulthoods who are new to technology. When helping seniors through this process, it’s critical to sympathize with the feeling of learning something new and being bad at it. Remember, a lot of older adults left the workforce before technology was implemented in any significant way- so it’s no wonder this stuff isn’t second nature to them. If a certain task is feeling challenging, you can acknowledge their frustration while offering reassurance that they will get the hang of it. Consider offering a personal example of how you struggled with a certain technology at first. Finally, celebrate their efforts to build confidence.
5.Connect with other helpful resources
You’ll want to set up the resident for success with the technology even when you’re not there. To achieve this, identify another point person for tech support in your community and find contact information for the tech support teams of embedded community-level technologies. For support with personal tech tools, you could also consider whether the resident has any tech-savvy family members who are interested in lending a hand. Finally, create easy-to-read “cheat sheets” to leave with the residents so that they can troubleshoot certain issues on their own.
6.Encourage internet safety
It is important to consider that while technology can be very enriching for seniors in your community, it also brings with it certain security hazards. Seniors are especially susceptible to certain scams as many are not aware of how people may manipulate them online. The concept of cybersecurity is relatively new, so you’ll want to offer specific advice to residents, rather than a general “be careful”. As this may be a new concept to most, they may not know what kinds of things to look out for. You’ll want to strike a balance between being informative and not scaring residents away completely. When discussing internet safety, you can mention the importance of things like strong passwords, not sending personal information via email, etc.
7.Practice makes perfect
Our final tip for teaching seniors to use technology in your community is practice, practice, practice. As we mentioned before, everyone learns differently. Encourage residents to take their learning into their own hands and try things out for themselves. To avoid overwhelming residents and to keep it exciting, avoid long sessions. Rather, reinforce the main takeaways in slow and short visits.
It’s important to note that out-of-control screen time can pose its own problems for seniors, just like for any other generation. This isn’t about forcing a reluctant generation to embrace technology just because, rather, it’s about identifying the technologies that hold real potential to enrich residents ’ lived experience and giving them the tools they need to embrace them.