“We are social animals and need to have family and tribe and a sense of belonging to be psychologically whole,” says Andrew Duxbury, professor in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“As the vicissitudes of life cause our bodies to change, getting out becomes harder, we tend to spend more time at home and our peer group starts to fall away.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“The rise of the Internet has helped reverse these trends by allowing seniors to stay in touch with family and peers without having to leave a comfortable environment,” Duxbury says. Here’s how technology is helping seniors stay connected and live healthier lives.
Interactions Deepen Connections
“We all want to be included in things,” says Deborah Shouse, author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creating Activities to Explore Together. “Staying connected with family and friends enriches life and offers an air of excitement to everyday life. Having a visual to go along with the conversation often helps us all feel more connected.”
Streaming video and video-enabled chat apps make that possible, and more older Americans are already using the technology needed to connect in these ways. Data from Pew Research shows that about 25 percent of Americans 65 and older own smart phones and about 32 percent own tablets.
Seniors Use Social Media
Duxbury says he knows a lot of 80-somethings who use Facebook and other social media. According to a Pew Research report, 56 percent of online adults 65 and older use Facebook and other social apps. Like Vicki Lamb.
“Facebook is a wonderful way to stay in touch with family and friends,” says Lamb, who is 75. “You can see what they are doing and watch the children and grandchildren grow. Three of my children spent 18 days in Italy, Greece and Crete — I am quite limited by arthritis, but I traveled with them vicariously. And in my late husband's family of 224 members, Facebook really allows me to stay involved.”
Wearables & Devices Improve Communication
AARP research shows that 67 percent of family caregivers want to use technology for health and home monitoring — but only one tenth currently are. Many seniors don’t report falls or other issues for fear of losing their independence, and many caregivers feel awkward asking questions about their parent’s health and safety.
Home monitoring systems and wearable medical alert systems with automatic notification capabilities make it possible for caregiving children to know when their parents are safe or need assistance without having difficult conversations.
Duxbury says wearables, in particular, support better connectedness and communication for seniors through “real-time monitoring of activity and immediate alert to a fall or other untoward event; helping prevent wandering in the cognitively impaired, [and] sending real-time data to central computers which can alert a healthcare provider if something is out of parameters.”
Tips for Talking About These Issues
Ready to talk to mom or dad about using technology to stay better connected and engaged? Here are some tips:
Plan the conversation for a time of day when everyone is rested and alert.
Be sensitive to your parent’s feelings of self-consciousness and fear of being put “in the home” — explain that some technology might be to avoid that very thing
Stay focused on the benefits to you and your parents, including your peace of mind
Use the technology, when possible, to support the conversation
Cite examples of friends or family already using technology to stay safe and independent
Prepare to have a series of incremental conversations about aging, isolation and healthcare
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