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Real Seniors lack essential technology – Consider an Older Americans Technology Act in 2019

When Pew stops tracking senior adoption, does that imply a market saturated?  Note this Fact Tank aggregation of technology adoption statistics (tech overall among seniors, last reported in 2016) – and the most recent data cited on Internet use, seniors were quoted in a 2016 survey, 44% of responders did not use the internet. Of those that do, older adults aged 65+ said they had little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks.  Let’s think about their non-confidence (not broken down into the 65-74) and the 75+ who are the Real Seniors

Does that fear imply lack of training? Or too much media reporting about scams, breaches, and identity theft – most of which is difficult to detect and nearly impossible to prevent? Who knows, since Pew appears to be largely done – after all, they note, 89% of Americans are online and they do not survey all questions each time. AARP published a survey last year that included responders in their 70s -- we stay tuned for the next update.

Are those who should care about this not doing enough? Here are questions to ponder moving into 2019 for those whose job, business, policy role, or non-profit organizational mission is to help seniors go online (you know who you are) to craft an Older Americans Technology Act:

  • For seniors, why is there a problem with non-use?  Note the research from Michigan State cited in an AARP article: "Greater technology use was associated with better self-rated health, fewer chronic conditions, higher subjective well-being and lower depression." The study also found that technology use reduced feelings of loneliness. And let’s not forget how many services can be discovered and accessed online, including scheduled food delivery, transportation requests, buying tickets and signing up for local events. And have we mentioned online banking, accessing Social Security information, buying savings bonds – oh, and then there's healthcare access, including finding a doctor or benefiting from telehealth services? 
  • Are there still senior centers or organizations that do not have high speed internet?   You know where they are – maybe they haven’t figured out the right source of grants, like, for example, Grantmakers in Aging? Senior centers are partially funded by the Older Americans Act – which also provides Meals on Wheels. But there is nothing in the Act (beyond partial funding of senior centers) that specifies professionally delivered training of seniors on technology use or supporting seniors in their usage.  This is a policy change and it's high time that the policy was changed.
  • Why isn’t technology training of seniors required to be delivered by professionals?  Is it because it is viewed as non-essential because it is 'free'?  The Geek Squad isn’t free, so why is there no magnanimous donor group focused on helping seniors who could fund a regular visit of several Geek hours to a library, senior center or other community center who could help individual older adults during designated hours with their devices? AARP pays for training it offers in its regional workshops, which is free to participants.  Presumably organizations like OATS, expanding outside of NYC (but still reaching a small percentage of seniors), must use grants to pay trainers to do the offered training, which is free to attendees. This should be the standard of caring about seniors -- offer professional trainers combined with free training.
  • But you ask, why isn’t 'volunteer' training good enough? Because at today's pace of technology change, it can't be. Read the list of Geek Squad services again.  Or look at another nationwide competitor, HelloTech (ads bash Geek Squad) or Bask or many paid services in various geographies. You hopefully get what you pay for. Free training may be well-intentioned – and it is appropriate in stores of carriers who provide the connectivity. But it is very expensive to stay current with the myriad of always-shipping new devices and OS variations and upgrades, required to keep a device secure. Add the difficulty (and costs) of getting an operational router, high speed internet printing from multiple devices, streaming from devices. 
  • Smart phones for seniors: why can’t every Real Senior (age 75+) have one? And no, it’s not to read dumb text messages heads down and fall into a manhole – nor is it about the social media company that cannot be named. Smartphones are useful in so many ways that without one, day-to-day life and flexibility are circumscribed.  GPS turn-by-turn directions, research about what’s nearby when traveling, renting a car, checking reviews before eating in a restaurant or checking into a hotel, for starters.  And that doesn’t count emergency advice from WebMD or Mayo Clinic.  So that brings me to:
  • Why isn’t there a senior discount to get a smartphone?  No, I am not talking about the cell phone plans.  Senior discounts are offered in at least 180 categories of services and products today, including cell phone plans. But what about a 50% discount on an iPhone or Galaxy S9 – to get them into the 21st century with their grandchildren, assuming that other infrastructure is available to help them (in-store training, upgrade assistance, and on and on.) 
  •  When will everyone have a voice-activated TV remote?  Voice-activation and control will surely be standard for smart TVs, but sites that cater to seniors aren’t sources for finding them.  Nor is there any apparent interest in re-engineering older remotes to support voice input. Why not?

Baby boomers cross 73 in 2019, becoming Real Seniors in 2 years.  They will likely live, on average, another 10-15 years or more.  For the next 18 years, the growth in the number of Real Seniors will continue.  Shortages of in-home care workers are worsening, new, hopefully tech-enhanced services are already forming. Senior living firms, meanwhile, are over-expanding to accommodate them, hopefully in communities with high speed internet and WiFi access everywhere. For all of the Real Seniors to be, now’s the time to tech-enable their future, don’t you think? Let’s not keep having this conversation for the next 18 years.

[NOTE TO READERS:  If you receive this blog in an email, please click to see the full post on Aging in Place Technology Watch website where if you like, you can comment. Thanks.]


There are two important things to help seniors: 1) Lower technology cost. 2) Others (>1) in their circle of care able to use/leverage tech to help them.

Tech vendors could offer a substantial senior discount as the carriers do. Nothing preventing it. And pressure from health industry on Apple would make it happen.

Great rant. Thank you, George

I'm curious if there are good models of tech training in a CCRC.  Where I live there are many who are quite computer savvy, but also many who would like to do things that they cannot because of lack of knowledge.  A weekly group, or perhaps an eight week course led by a professional could make a lot of difference, I think.  Anything like that out there?

Community technology groups -- clubs/associations or whatever they're called -- exist in many places, offering senior-friendly settings and information/training on latest devices/services/etc.

In Washington, DC area, there's www.wap.org (Apple oriented) and www.patacs.org (Windows oriented but flexible on topics). Nationwide there's www.apcug.org supporting about 200 community groups (see my article about getting support in the community). I'm on WAP/PATACS Boards of Directors and on APCUG Board of Advisors. APCUG's website has a locator system for finding nearby groups.

It's challenging for groups getting the word out about offerings/meetings/etc. so whatever you do to publicize these resources would be great.


So, lets rephrase the question and get real.  What is "essential technology" for seniors?  I suppose "it depends on the quality of life stage" for each senior.   Is there a place to find a model that simplifies and clarifies that information.  IMHO, seniors want easy to use technology that does not involve what I will call as constant tune up and attention.  They just want it to work straight forward for their needs.  My $.02. 

We, T-mobile, are responsible and well-equipped. Working with public agencies serving seniors, I learned about social isolation. We put pressure on our digital divide with economical tablets and reduced-cost internet. The former CIO of City of Chicago refers to the digital divide as the elephant in the room. She envisions the solution as a quilt. I see the quilt as fiber and cellular providers. How do we make sure that this technology is well-utilized?

Won't getting seniors online exacerbate their isolation and increase their exposure to scammers? I understand that the tech can potentially ease isolation as well, but it seems like what older Americans need most is regular, face-to-face interaction with other Americans.  


Face-to-face interaction is ideal: That would be true at any age. No one would suggest that for you or your peers INSTEAD of access to technology.

Downside, like Aging in Place itself...For the modern Elder (Thanks Chip) Tech will be as necessary as oxygen. Having said that, it’s low hanging fruit for the unscrupulous cybercrime mongers. That needs to be addressed somehow. 


 "Big Picture" transmission solutions exist, and offering reduced cost and tablets is a step.  But the issue is bigger and more complex than addressing isolation issues.  As one who has crafted several quilts (and by the way, quilts are made with love),  I understand the metaphor and think it is a good one.  Would be happy to have an off-line chat with her or both of you..  

I have a small business teaching and coaching people in the use of tech. All my clients are born before 1955 or so. Smartphones are COMPLICATED for them. Yes they are useful but not everyone finds them easy to navigate. Point in case.. client who didn't understand why she lost her gps directions when she got in the car. Well she was using a wifi only iPad... or a different client,  why the iPhone reverted to locking up on her. Answer, she had auto update on for the OS and that automatically turns on the lock....  I don't try to teach classes because everyone is on a different page and you just end up coaching one to one with other people waiting. Love the idea of senior discounts and using voice.