Keeping up With Social Media and Technology

Today’s social media provides opportunity and challenges
Illustration by Benjamin Hjelm

Facebook. Facetime. Instagram. Instant messaging. Pinterest. Skype. Snapchat. Texting, Twitter. YouTube.

You name it. Those platforms are just some of the wide variety on the constantly emerging and rapidly changing social media landscape.

The reality, as scary and distressing as it may be for some, is that these are the preferred ways for people to connect nowadays. Phone calls and e-mails, or even personal visits, are so last century.

Savvy seniors recognize that if they want to stay linked to friends and family while remaining relevant, they’d better get with it.

“They have to know how to use social media and do those things because their grandkids are not going to pick up the phone and call,” says Craig Peterson, the host of the weekly radio show “Tech Talk,” which airs on WGIR-AM and other stations in the iheartmedia network in New Hampshire. “Seniors are not instigating the technology, but they are learning how to use it. As far as communications go, the kids are driving it, and grandma and grandpa are capitulating so they can keep in touch with them.”

It’s no secret that the 55-plus set of today is more technologically evolved than any previous generation. A recent report by the respected Pew Research Group revealed that computer use among people 65 and older has doubled in the last decade alone.

For the most part, seniors have reached a comfort level with smartphones, tablets, lap tops, and other gizmos and gadgets. Moreover, many understand at least the basics of the applications and programs that run them.

“While some seniors are still terrified of the technology, others are embracing it. There’s a little bit of both going on,” says Peterson, whose website identifies him as one of the country’s top 200 computer and Internet consultants with more than 30 years of industry experience.

Not only is technology providing the way seniors may stay socially connected, its advances are enabling them to enjoy some remarkable quality-of-life benefits. All of that adds up to remaining independent longer and being able to age in place rather than having to move into an assisted living facility or a nursing home.

At the same time, it allows caregivers to feel more confident and capable.

“There’s a tremendous demand for technological tools to help caregiving, particularly as baby boomers deal with elderly parents who may be living across the country,” Tracy Zitzelberger, administrative director of the Oregon Center for Aging & Technology, told The Kiplinger Report.

The marketplace is meeting the need. For the first time, this year’s internationally renowned Consumer Electronics Show, which is a technology trade show held in Las Vegas annually in January and attracts the major companies and industry professionals worldwide, included an entire division of innovative goods and services designed exclusively for the senior set.

“I go to that show every year and do about 100 interviews with high-tech CEOs. Within the last five years there has been the development of a lot of really interesting technology products aimed at seniors to help them do different things,” Peterson says. “But mostly, these products allow them to feel a little safer, and therefore, they improve their lives a lot.”

One of the best resources already on the market is Great Call, which offers cell phones with over-sized keyboards, smartphones with built-in health and safety apps, and medical alert devices and services.

“Technology like that is what seniors are embracing quite well because it’s something that they are familiar with. They’ve had a phone, at least a cell phone, for years. And that is what Great Call is providing,” says Peterson.

The RealPad by Intel and available through AARP is much simpler to use than other and far more sophisticated tablets like Apple’s line of iPads and the Microsoft Surface products.

The Iris Smart Home System, available at Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, controls the thermostat, locks, lights and more from a smartphone or tablet for peace of mind. Motion sensors track your indoor activity and automate devices like lights as you move around, and the system alerts you to dangers like fire, floods and security threats

“We’ve come a long way from the old ‘Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ times. Nowadays there is so much more that can be done to assist people, especially those living alone. There are devices that have cameras in them so you can check on your parents, or the doctor’s office can give you your drugs and make sure you’re taking your medication in the right doses. The pharmacist can pre-fill machines that automate that whole process,” says Peterson. “The technology has made the elderly community much safer.”, which is offered through Walgreens pharmacies’ mobile apps and online, is a virtual telehealth system allowing patients access to a network of fully licensed and board certified physicians by phone, or by videoconferencing on their computers as long as they have a high-speed Internet connection. It is available 24/7 and 365 days per year.

Doctors can diagnose your condition, write a prescription for non-narcotic medication and send it electronically to the pharmacy of choice. That makes it easier for those with mobility issues or limited access to transportation to be treated with quality care.

“An important thing to note is that many of the newer devices available, from the ‘help I can’t get up’ ones through the pill dispensers and the various types of trackers, have a built-in cell modem so they’re not reliant on having to set it up through your Wi-Fi or whether your Internet connection is up or down. As long as your cell modem can get a signal, your device is online and it’s working,” Peterson says.

As the baby boomers age and people continue to enjoy a longer life expectancy, the need for innovation tailored to them will continue to grow. Even better, the technological systems and devices will become less expensive.

“This is going to be a skyrocketing industry. The future money is in medicine, not as a physician, but in inventing and making devices that improve the lives of senior citizens,” Peterson predicts.   


Categories: Education, Seniors