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Seniors & Caregivers Adopting Technology for Safer, Independent Living

It’s frustrating when our aging parents are reticent to use technology for independent living and increased safety.

A survey conducted by Philips and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business found that both Gen Xers and Boomers feel their aging parents aren’t using technology as well as they could.

  • 53 percent believe it would be a good thing if their parents used technology more.
  • 45 percent want their parents to use monitoring technologies, such as home health monitors, yet only 17 percent do
  • 43 percent want them to use security systems, but only 12 percent do
  • 21 percent of senior respondents plan to incorporate technology solutions or to remodel and retrofit their homes in order to stay in place as they age

Survey respondents said the biggest reason for their aging parents not using technology is that it’s "too hard" to learn. But that’s not exactly right. Rather than degree of difficulty, seniors say powerful emotions make them reticent to try technology. “Our kids take our resistance to it as absolute, and they shouldn’t,” says 75-year-old tech user Vicki Lamb.

Address Seniors’ Complicated Feelings

“Seniors are frustrated by technology because there is nothing in our background — our life experience or in our education — that prepared us for this,” Lamb explains. “So the whole thing…is a little nerve-wracking. We are the ones who knew the answers. Now here's something that is alien to us and we don't want to look like idiots.”

Help your parents overcome that feeling with compassion and patience. “Start slow,” says life and fitness coach Nicole Pontillo, who’s also her mother’s primary caregiver. “Find technology that works for them — not everything will, and that’s OK. Just be patient and willing to explore the tech that is available.”

Lamb’s kids got her a smartphone but didn’t force her to use everything all at once, an approach she supports. “Show them all of the advantages and explain how you start with email and phone calls, and then as you become more comfortable you learn more.” Today, Lamb is among the 27 percent of Americans over 65 identified by Pew Research who own a smartphone. She’s also part of the 56 percent of online adults in that age group who use Facebook and other social apps.

Deploy the Young People

We all know the influence grandchildren, nieces, and nephews can have on their elders, so engage them in helping seniors learn technology. “Having kids do the ‘training’ is a great way to bond and contribute,” says Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One. “It’s also often less intimidating for a teen or [younger] child to teach the older person.”

Kids can also reduce the discomfort some seniors have about wearing medical alert bracelets or pendants. “Enlist the younger generations in the family to show them their wearable technology — it’s very hip right now,” she adds.

Emphasize Burden-Reducing Benefits

Show parents how technology can decrease the “burden” on you and improve their independence.

“The thing seniors need to know — and that their children more or less understand — is that [technological solutions] can be useful tools, and that they can be integrated into their lives for helpful purposes,” says Andrew Duxbury, professor in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“Our parents don't ever want to feel like they are a burden to us,” says Richelle Claiborne, who cares for her mom at home. “If you make them feel like they are helping you by trying something a new way, and approach them in a gentle and thoughtful manner, they will be more receptive to trying. Then celebrate their successes with them.”

Focus on Ease of Use & Reliability

When selecting connected home security, wearables or personal medical response systems, factor in ease of use and performance data. Nobody’s going to use, much less trust their health and safety to, something that’s too hard to operate or that isn’t reliable.

“Most of the current senior generation, as they came of age and had their most productive years long before the ubiquity of computers and the Internet, can be somewhat suspicious of them,” Duxbury says. Build trust by having them speak to friends who are using similar technology and asking their doctors to advocate as well.

Caregivers can use these perspectives to ease their own fears and overcome theirs parent’s resistance to using technology to support health and safety with devices like phones, medical alert devices and connected home solutions.


This National Caregiver Month, Philips Lifeline has a special offer to help you take care of your loved one and yourself. Learn more.

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