Whoever’s idea it was to get my grandmother an iPhone was going to pay dearly. She was sitting at the table seated next to my mother yelling at Siri, as if the automated voice would listen to her angry instructions to be quiet.

I’m sure it’s a familiar scene to many people. Elders given phones, computers and tablets by their well-meaning children and given little to no instruction on how to use it. Pricey pieces of technology that often sit unused on tables or in boxes, abandoned to their fate. Children and grandchildren often try their best to show loved ones how to use the respective devices, but eventually wash their hands of it when it becomes inconvenient or too hard.

Technology use among seniors is growing and will only continue to grow. According the Pew Research Center, 77% of senior’s own cell phones, 59% use the internet, 46% are on a social networking site and 27% own a tablet or e-reader.[1] Pretty big numbers for things that seem intuitive and part of our daily life to younger people, but don’t seem that user friendly to elders.

My grandmother, a fiercely independent French-Canadian, first got a computer in the early 2000s. She learned how to access the internet, write documents on word and email back and forth to my cousins who lived out of state. As technology progressed, she got a cell-phone, used skype to video-chat with far away family and how to download the pictures of her beloved great-grandchildren that would flood her inbox.

My grandmother had been so up to date with technology that it didn’t faze a family member when they purchased her a new phone. They seemingly assumed that she would know how to use it without any instruction. The iPhone however, was a different story than the previous technology pieces she owned. She didn’t understand texting. Didn’t know why Siri wouldn’t stop talking to her. And who on earth had set up a Facebook account for her?

How can we help our elders use technology? I think an important distinction is how to help elders use technology without being demeaning or patronizing. This is the generation that lived through some of the greatest technology advances ever. The Greatest Generation, who fought WWII and came home victorious. They’re tough. They don’t need patronizing. A better approach, as teachers learn, is to start at the level of understanding where someone is so that they can succeed. You can’t understand how to text if you’ve never had to text someone before.

It’s important to consider any limitations or conditions a loved one has, such as difficulty hearing, poor sight and arthritis or other conditions that would prevent an elder from putting enough pressure on touch-screens. Once we assess these factors, it becomes a lot easier to determine what the best options are for technology choices.

HomeCare Magazine has a great list of tech items. There are tutorials or classes to help older people get acquainted with their new piece of technology. I can’t state enough how important it is simply to have patience with a loved one as they adjust to new forms of technology. Real patience, not just an empty word that we give up on when we get frustrated, but patience bound by love and understanding.

Technology can and certainly does improve the lives of elders. My grandmother can skype with family in North Carolina, take care of her finances online, see her great-grandchildren play and grow in videos sent via iPhone. While she’s still getting the hang of texting, she can have a group chat with all of her children. Technology has provided a way for elders to stay social, keep in touch with family and combat loneliness.

I can’t imagine what technology holds for us in the future, when those of us who are now young are older and struggling with technology we don’t understand. I only hope though, that I will be as determined and open to change and adaptation as my grandmother is.


Further Reading

Pew Research Center: Older Adults and Technology Use

BBC: The Generation that Tech Forgot

HomeCare Magazine: Top 10 Technology Devices for Seniors

[1] Smith, Aaron. “Older Adults and Technology Use.” Pew Research Center. April 3, 2014. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/usage-and-adoption/