Retired Americans – and those who are approaching that age – are products of the Space Age. As children, they saw massive technological advancements in rocket and computer technology. They sat in front of their televisions to watch American astronauts take their first steps on the moon. They were front-row witnesses in watching airline travel transform from a service available only to the rich to a common form of transportation.
Think about television. In their lifetime, they’ve adjusted the rabbit ears on their TV sets to tune into three fuzzy broadcast stations, seen the introduction of cable and satellite, and have moved on to super high-definition pictures transmitted through an overwhelming number of streaming services.
And then there are communications. This generation started their lives with an old-fashioned home phone hanging on the wall. They lived through the CB radio craze of the 1970s. As they reached their 30s and 40s, cellphones became a must-have device. First were the car phones, then the large cellphones known as “bricks,” to flip phones, to our modern sheets of glass known as smart phones.
The image of grandad sitting on the porch with his newspaper to pass the time should probably be replaced with that of grandparents making video calls to their grandchildren to stay connected.
The key theme across these great advancements in technology is that of connectivity. What was once achieved by tuning in to hear the game on the radio or by sharing your landline phone number with a new friend has changed drastically. Connectivity is all around us. It’s at the center of our now digital-first world. And this generation still strives to stay connected.
In fact, according to a recent survey by AARP, 94% of Americans 50 years and older text. 88% email. 74% are on social media, and 67% video chat.
This is a generation that has embraced technology throughout their lifetimes and wants to be able to use new high-tech devices to enhance their lives as they get older. And it’s critical that we’re here to help them do so.
The benefits could be enormous. With surveys showing that this generation wants to age in place, a connected older community means a healthier community. Not only is telemedicine increasing in popularity, but so are the number of connected health devices. That means doctors could get regular vital stats like blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and even electrocardiogram readings automatically uploaded to patients’ charts.
Just as important as maintaining physical health is maintaining mental health and wellness. More and more studies are showing how communities of seniors can be designed to maximize sharing, friendship, health, and happiness – and technology can help. Older Americans can utilize the latest technology to connect to their families and communities by video calling with grandkids, completing brain teasers to stay sharp, connecting with a therapist, tracking their steps, tracking medication intake and so much more.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of challenges. Setting up devices and connecting to networks can be complicated. Passwords are overwhelming. Fraudsters are always lurking. And there’s the cost of connectivity.
Constant education is key. Digital literacy workshops can encourage adoption, and help seniors understand how to take advantage of everything from telemedicine to online banking by giving them the skills they need to be connected. These workshops could also explain low-cost internet options from service providers like AT&T as well as federal benefits like the Affordable Connectivity Program. The net result could be no-cost internet service.
At a time when technology is advancing faster and faster each day, it’s important that we encourage and empower those in our community, like seniors, who may face these types of barriers to connectivity with the resources they need to succeed. No one should be left behind as we keep innovating for the future.
This combination of access, affordability, and adoption can help grow connectivity among seniors. And allow this Space Age generation to soar for years to come.
 How Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy | Berkeley.edu