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The more tech changes: A decade of older adult Technology Surveys

Few of the oldest are ever surveyed about tech adoption – least of all using paper. Link-Age Connect has surveyed the oldest about tech use since 2011, with periodic surveys fielded to older adults via their member organizations. In 2011, that represented 122,000 residents drawn from its member communities across 22 states.  The member communities in 2011 distributed 5000 paper surveys and got back 1789 completed, a 35% response rate. Many were completed with assistance for people with limited vision or mobility. All were transcribed for analysis and use in the published report, Technology Survey Age 65 to 100, Extending Technology Past the Boomers.  In 2011, 71% of the responders were older than aged 75. 

Fast forward a decade laterforever in the world of technology. This time an all-online survey received 2398 completed – reflected in the report titled 2021 Technology Study Older Adults Age 55-100. This time 93% of the responders were aged 70+, with a third older than 75. True, by definition an online survey is going to be completed by individuals who are online -- the 2011 survey obtained transcribed comments from people who weren’t -- but wished they could be. The 2021 survey had comments from all responders who were willing to enter them into a Survey Monkey form. Each of the reports included a selection of comments that added pointed observations.  Included here are some of those comments, culled from each survey (see Figure 1).

What were the most notable quantified changes?  Some of the 2011 questions referenced fairly recent products of that time. For one thing, smartphone ownership changed from 3% in 2011 to 84% in 2021, but note that the first iPhone was only shipped in 2007. Similarly, only 3% had a tablet in 2011 (first iPad was out in 2010), while nearly 60% had them in 2021. Medical alert pendant ownership plummeted --  overall from 35% in 2011 to fewer than 10% in 2021, perhaps due to the availability of smart watches.  There were no virtual physician interactions in 2011, but more than 20% were having virtual doctor’s appointments in 2021. Similarly, there was little smart home technology available in 2011, but by 2021, Roomba vacuum cleaners and smart doorbells had reached 12% of responders.

Consider their comments -- both anxiety and enthusiasm.  In 2011, responders expressed hope and limitations: “I’m mostly interested in learning how to send and receive e-mail.”  “I love when my son-in-law goes online to read me the newspaper from my hometown (I am blind.)" "It is hard to keep up with technology – a prescribed tempo someone decided and mandated to be normal."

And in 2021, add exasperation: "I’m only interested in adopting new tech that meets a specific need in my life, not just for the sake of having the latest new toy." And more: “I couldn't imagine life without Wi-Fi and the internet now, but the constant upgrades and changes, some of which are nothing more than a grab for additional revenue versus actual improvements, are maddening."

Tech once new may become obsolete.  Probably the most interesting changes about experiences of older adults is that new devices and technology emerges all the time – and many of the oldest try them out – like smart TVs and streaming devices.  Tech that has served them well – like a landline – they may want to keep --but will see more and more pressure to move to cell phone only or fiber services. Tech that has been replaced with something better – like a smart watch (with more function) than a pendant (one function), they will give it a try, ideally with a response center linked in the event of an emergency. And of course, barriers to technology adoption remain.

Figure 1 Comments about technology from 2011, 2021
                   2011                           2021
Got along all my life without this technology, so I'll continue without itWorried about dependence on technology. What happens when we lose power?
Do not believe in giving out information on the Internet nor banking nor use of credit cards.It opens up the world of entertainment and education, as well as cyber criminals.
Can do if given careful instructions and I write down in a book.My son is a computer technologist, so I rely on him.
I am very much interested.  My grandchildren make me feel like a dinosaur. Please stop changing the programs so I have to learn something new often to do the same things I did before. 
I read the newspaper and like to get my mail from the mailman.I wish it had been available at home many years ago.
Beware thinking computers connect people - they do not - they fragment us more.Sometimes I think it is ruining society. Kids are not taught to communicate.
I have vertigo. Would like technology to assist in fall prevention.Technology is an asset and a challenge. It needs better encryption and voice control.
I am interested in learning more about diabetes monitoring.I really don't care about technology unless it comes from my doctor.
I am 90 and can make limited use of the computer. I would like one-on-one help.I have a PhD. I cannot figure out how to use the technology I bought, so I returned it.
Cost of services offered is unreasonable.In general, I find it too complicated and too expensive. 
I like cell phones to call and text. I like it - it keeps me informed and entertained.

 

Comments

“Love your blog Laurie Orlov! Good stuff.”

Great job condensing these down, Laurie. I wish the recent one had included some paper-based surveys, though—as you pointed out!

That table comparing 2011 and 2021 is fantastic!

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