Wednesday, 30 April 2014
The Technology Elders Use – And Don't
When, a few months ago, I saw a new primary care physician, of course he drew blood for a bunch of tests. Two days later, I was delighted to receive an email from the large health provider with which he is affiliated linking to the test results online.
Not only were the results numbers listed, so was the normal range so that I could tell immediately if there were red flags. That is light years better than waiting for days, as in the past, until the doctor got around to telephoning me – if he or she ever did.
The health and medical community has been threatening “telehealth” for years and it is slowly coming into being. There are places where you can meet with a physician online in a Skype-like call but not many.
For all the reasons that are obvious, it is my belief that for routine monitoring, video visits with doctors should arrive in our lives sooner rather than later.
A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Internet Project released its most recent Older Adults and Technology Use survey. The big news is that the percentage of adults 65 and older who go online is increasing. Here is their chart on that:
Like it or not, the internet is where things get done these days and I don't think it's nearly enough for the elder participation to have grown from 14% to 59% in 13 years. In fact, the number is even lower if you don't count highly educated and affluent elders. As Pew notes,
”Younger, higher-income, and more highly educated seniors use the internet and broadband at rates approaching - or even exceeding - the general population; internet use and broadband adoption each drop off dramatically around age 75.”
(Personally, I think it is an error to count broadband adoption as an indicator of advanced internet use. There are many communities, particularly outside big cities, where broadband is not available so it not a choice; people in those places are stuck with dialup still.)
Overall however, according to the study, the 65-plus group is falling behind the rest of the population in technology adoption. Take a look:
Here is what Pew has to say about smartphones as a subset of cellphone adoption by elders:
”...even as cell phones are becoming more common among seniors, smartphones have yet to catch on with all but small pockets of the older adult population.
“Just 18% of seniors are smartphone adopters (this is well below the national adoption rate of 55%) and their rate of smartphone adoption has been growing at a relatively modest pace.
I detect a whiff of disapproval in that statement that older Americans aren't doing their part to enrich the mobile hardware purveyors but I think there is a good reason.
All this week, the news has been telling us about two Supreme Court cases to be decided about whether police should be required to get a warrant to search cell phones.
Those opposed say that smartphones contain just about every personal detail there is about their owners and there should be a compelling legal reason for agents of the government to access that much private information.
I happen to agree but that's not my point today. Younger adults juggling their careers with raising children in a busy modern world have a lot to keep track of and having it all on one hand-held device is easy and convenient.
But I don't think old people, particularly when retired, have anywhere near as much reason to have a smartphone with a zillion apps. So why pay hundreds of dollars for all that extra power when a clamshell with a big-number keypad does the job? (Contrary to conventional wisdom, elders aren't stupid.)
As the current elder generations die off and the young boomers grow into the upper age categories, they will bring their smartphones with them and then marketers can complain that they aren't buying whatever the next latest gizmo is.
Another question that interested me was about the elders who don't go online and don't think they are missing anything. In case the font is too small in this image for you to read, it is: “% of those 65 and older who agree with the statement: People without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing.” Here's the chart:
This is the Pew commentary on that chart:
”Seniors who do not currently go online, on the other hand, are much more divided when it comes to the benefits of technology. Half of these non-users (48%) agree that people lacking internet access are at a disadvantage and missing out on important information, with 25% agreeing strongly.
“But 35% of older non-internet users disagree with the assessment that they are missing out on important information — with 18% of them disagreeing strongly.”
As we have discussed at great length just in the past two days, there are amazing practical and life-enhancing reasons to be online but I doubt that there is a way to convince most of that 35 percent to join us.
As a kind of addendum, here is a related video from Pew about how people with chronic health conditions use the internet.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Learning Experiences