Health Coaching: Technology Adoption by Older Adults

by Marcy Simpson, LCSW

Technology is a broad term that refers to equipment developed from applying scientific knowledge to improving the process of completing a task. We usually think of electronic or digital products or systems such as computers, cell phones, and the Internet. These are all examples of how making a phone call, typing a letter, or researching information have increased in complexity. Changes are occurring at breakneck speed and our social context has been impacted in many ways. Adopting these new products and systems is becoming necessary to function in everyday life as the changes become more pervasive in society.

There is a common misperception that older adults are reluctant to embrace new technology.  Because certain technologies are not currently utilized by older adults to the extent that younger adults engage, stereotypes of older adults being afraid, unwilling or unable to use technology have developed. There is also the concept of the “digital divide,” which refers to the gap between those who do and those who do not welcome technology.  

Access definitely plays a part in the level of interest. A person’s attitude and ability are two major predictors of technology use. Anxiety and low confidence are obstacles which can result from memory and cognitive issues, or changes in vision and fine motor skills that impact ease of navigation on a device such as a cell phone or remote control.

With all of that being said, the majority of older adults actually perceive the benefits of technology as more positive than negative.  Seniors download videos, communicate online through email and Facebook, and perform online searches for travel and health information.  In fact, older adults are much more likely to research health-related questions than younger generations. Seniors also recognize the value in technology that benefits the goal of aging in place and maintaining their independence.  Developments in medical alert systems, health tracking apps and devices, smart pillboxes, and personal emergency response systems all promote better management of health conditions and facilitate healthy living.

As new advances in technology continue to emerge, applications have the potential to become increasingly complex and can seem overwhelming.  

Here are some strategies to address the tide of technological developments:

  • Accept where you are in the learning process. All of us have different levels of understanding and experience. It’s okay to not know what you don’t know yet!
  • Learn how to use the device. You may learn better by reading the instruction manual or by taking a class. Some learn best by hands-on/trial and error.
  • Resist the urge to give up! Break down the learning process into smaller steps or enlist the aid of an expert.
  • Practice your new skills. Be intentional about becoming familiar with how to operate the device. Remember that learning new skills exercises your brain.
  • Provide feedback to designers regarding “senior-friendly” features.

Technology can be viewed a tool that enhances our lives to provide greater flexibility and freedom.  Older adults support new changes while recognizing their needs and use may be different.

Marcy Simpson, LCSW, is a Health Coach at Pinehurst Medical Clinic in Pinehurst and Sanford.  She can be reached at 910-237-3347 or msimpson@pinehurstmedical.com.