Seniors and technology aren’t usually two terms you associate too closely, but according to new data, that’s yet another paradigm that’s been upended by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Like everyone else, seniors are stuck at home, and increasingly they are turning to technology to go about their daily routine. While using technology to avoid isolation and stay in touch with loved ones during quarantine is important for everyone, it’s especially important for seniors since isolation can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day for those over 65. According to data gathered by SnugSafe, an app for seniors who live alone, seniors’ tech habits are changing in some ways that might be surprising.
Shopping Online More
With lockdowns and strict capacity limitations, things as simple as going to get groceries are no longer the routine chore they once were. Not only are there shortages of essential items, but safety precautions have led to long line-ups to even get into grocery stores. While line-ups and long wait times are inconvenient, they can also be dangerous to those in vulnerable groups, like seniors. As a result, nearly half of respondents said they ordered groceries online, with 56% of them saying they had started doing it because of a quarantine. 46% of respondents were using online delivery options from local grocery stores, while 39% used Instacart and 30% turned to Walmart. Another survey found that 39% of new online grocery shoppers were over the age of sixty. The recent upsurge in older people buying their groceries online has the industry talking about how it can cater online retail to older shoppers. Overall, online retail purchases across all categories were up for over-65’s 10% over 2019, the largest increase of any age group surveyed.
Taking Their Social Lives Online
Shopping isn’t the only thing seniors have turned to the internet for. Contrary to stereotypes, seniors are embracing video conferencing software to stay in touch with friends and family. 52% of respondents preferred Zoom, with FaceTime coming in second at 46% and Facebook Messenger and Zoom coming third and fourth respectively. A lot of people now use the zoom teleprompter app to make the video conference more meaningful. 41% of respondents said they were videoconferencing more than once a week. Another survey found 39% of respondents were video chatting with their grandchildren more than before the pandemic.
But video chatting isn’t the only aspect of technology seniors have embraced. One survey found that 69% of seniors surveyed reported using a social media platform on a daily basis. In addition to watching videos on Facebook and Tweeting, seniors are also using social media to stay active during quarantine. 48% of those surveyed by SnugSafe had used exercise apps or YouTube videos to stay active during lockdown. More seniors are also setting up virtual coffee hours and groups to keep abreast of events and talk to friends.
Smart Homes Meet Retirement Homes
Another group adopting technology in response to COVID-19 is seniors’ housing communities. Assisted living facilities are faced with unprecedented challenges, and many are embracing technology to keep residents and staff safe. Many are adopting telehealth strategies and ‘robot visits,’ so residents can safely stay in touch with relatives and friends and keep up with doctor’s appointments.
Assisted living facilities are also embracing smart home technologies. Smart speakers can play music on command, alert residents when it’s time to take medication, and automatically connect video or phone calls. Motion- or voice-enabled lights can help residents avoid the risk of falls that come with fumbling around in the dark for a light switch. Another ancillary benefit from the adoption of smart home tech in assisted living facilities is that the data gathered can provide useful insights and help tech companies more effectively cater their products to older users. With the senior care sector expected to expand to $255 billion by 2024 as baby boomers retire, emerging technology is poised to radically change both in-home senior care and assisted living.
Telehealth As The New Normal in Senior Living
Another major development spurred by the pandemic is the mass adoption of telehealth. Last Spring, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) launched a $200 million initiative to promote telehealth, and its widespread adoption since the pandemic seems to indicate that it’s here to stay. The widespread adoption of telemedicine is beneficial for both seniors who live alone and those in assisted living facilities.
Ultimately, the data indicates that seniors are using technology in much the same ways as their younger cohorts are. They are going online to stay in touch with friends and family, as well as to keep healthy and combat the effects of quarantine-induced isolation. The embrace of smart tech in assisted living could be a welcome paradigm shift as the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of increasingly tech-savvy baby boomers approaches retirement. With nearly 50 million Americans over the age of 65, the COVID-led embrace of technology by seniors is big news.