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Older adults and screen time – what’s it mean?

Pew’s latest opus examined screen time for older adults.  The highlight of this document published in June – from age 60 to 80 and beyond, older adults spend more time on their screens (watching TV or videos) than on anything else other than sleep. And that includes time spent working. And one other interesting tidbit – 40% of those in their 60s are still working, which of course includes the un-retired.  But 14% of people in their 70s are still working, according to Pew, along with 4% of people in their 80s.  The report also notes that 73% of the 65+ are Internet users, and 53% are smartphone users.  As with the younger population, reading and socializing time has ticked down.

What’s on that screen, anyway? For the 65+, only 26% in  another study during the same time period were identified as Netflix users.  The BLS offers more granular statistics – those 65 and older watch more TV than teenagers.  Broken down geographically, it can’t be because of the weather. Among Cable TV users, folks in Florida and Arizona, ironically, watch fewer than 3 hours per day, compared to 3 hours per day in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.   The Pew document did not examine time spent online as screen time– but Facebook’s user base is growing among older adults, presumably balancing the sizable loss of young people as well as the 30 million who died during the company’s first eight years, now able to be memorialized through a new 'legacy' feature. But we digress.

What happened to exercise? Maybe during the time older adults are in front of screens, they have already exercised for the day. Unfortunately, no. Only 16.4% of adults age 65-74 and 10.2% of the 75+ age groups met federal exercise guidelines in 2018. In the fine print, these aren’t too onerous if a little is done each day. Yet reasons why not to exercise (excuses, etc.) equal the list of compelling positives. And just published, it turns out that exercising in the morning improves memory. Alas, the chair and ever-larger TV screen beckon, with new series, episodes, interactions, videos and updates, both inviting and available with a single tap.

Other factors correlate with the Pew data -- obesity and work.  Correlated with the rise in screen time for the 60+ population, it’s no surprise that 41% of individuals aged 60+ have been identified as obese according to the CDC.  Both CDC and the screen time data show that higher levels of education correlate with working past the age of 60 (Pew) and, not surprisingly, lower levels of obesity (CDC).  And in fact, 53% of those aged 65+ with a college degree are still in the workforce.  A caveat: the Pew survey period ends in 2017, the CDC data concluded in 2016. As the worker shortage worsened during 2018, nearly half of new jobs were filled by those aged 55+, and in 2019, more than 20% of those aged 65+ are working or looking for work.  At the least, these folks are busier -- maybe screen time for them has declined.


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Any startup in the aging and or healthcare arena MUST understand that older adult digital activity varies greatly based on age, physical health, financial and educational status and region. This Pew Report is a goldmine and critical to use BEFORE your product/ offering gets designed rather than to justify that users are coming. Enjoy. Thanks to @Laurie Orlov for highlighting.