Are Older Adults Capable of Using Technology? Dispelling Damaging Stereotypes

senior using laptop

By Ishika Dhingra

Over the past decade, the population of older Americans has been increasing as average lifetime expectancies have continued to grow putting pressure on healthcare providers to address this silver tsunami. Since 2009, the number of older Americans has increased by 14.4 million and they now consist of 16% of the US population (ACL, 2021). But with the exponential utilization of technology today, how have these Americans kept up with the rising digital age?

Many people continue to believe that older adults are unable to participate in the digital revolution that has occurred over the past two decades. However, this is far from the truth, research and studies have shown that older adults are in fact eager to learn how to use technology. In recent years many older adults, including half of those 65 and older, have become smartphone owners (Jefferson, 2019) while 53% of those 70 and older own a tablet (Kakulla, 2021). Moreover, with the increased necessity for internet usage within the past two decades, 73% of Americans 65 and older are internet users today compared to 14% in 2000 (Jefferson, 2019). The gap between older adults and technology is closing as they now have more accessibility to connect and contribute as the world becomes more technologically advanced. 

With the coronavirus pandemic restricting social interaction, older adults began embracing technology as they turned to utilizing smart devices, streaming movies and TV shows and video chatting with their loved ones. The uncertainty of when the pandemic would end motivated them to learn and expand their use of technology. Furthermore, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences stated that a lack of social connection and brain stimulation is associated with higher risk of physical health problems such as heart disease and dementia. While still being hesitant to adopt these devices, an online and phone survey conducted by AARP suggests that 53% of older adults admitted they desired to have a better grasp of the new devices they had acquired. Not only did they want tutorials for Zoom and telemedicine, they wanted to stay connected to the outside world by joining virtual clubs and fitness classes.

As society continues to become more dependent on technology and healthcare continues its accelerated shift to remote and virtual care, older adults will increasingly be required to use digital devices. As nearly 13.8 million Americans over the age of 65 live by themselves (Poon & Holder, 2020) and the number of caregivers is not expected to keep pace with the number of older adults who require care, technology may become vital for allowing this population to age in place. 

Our application, PrehabPal facilitates older adults and guides their bodies and minds to prepare for surgery. The interface is designed specifically for these patients as they navigate the application with ease. Based on the patient feedback we received from the PrehabPal website, 93% were able to navigate the platform with ease while 90% were overall satisfied. (Add UCSF later to percentage citation)

Eliminating the misconception of older adults and their use of technology will provide them with the courage and motivation to become more adaptable to the digital world. As the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, facilitating the transition to digital life is pivotal for the physical and mental health of older adults. As the elderly population is expected to continue to grow significantly in the future, bridging the gap between them and their use of technology will generate healthier and happier lives. 

Ooney Named Semi-Finalist in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Home & Community Based Care Innovation Challenge

Ooney beat out 95 applicants and was selected as one of 5 semi-finalists in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Home & Community Based Care Innovation Challenge.

Community care challenge award

“Digital solutions empower consumers and providers to actively engage in managing and improving health outside of traditional clinical systems. New technologies provide convenient, affordable, and comfortable care within homes and communities. This movement can greatly support individuals of all ages across a variety of geographies. However, despite these benefits, the US continues to use mostly institution-based care models. Cultural shifts and more innovation is required to give individuals, caregivers, and providers the tools they need to address healthy living within the home and community. “
Read more about the challenge

Ooney’s PrehabPal and Dr. Emily Finlayson featured on CNBC

Ooney was featured in the news again recently in the CNBC article, ” Older patients recover from surgery faster if they ‘train’ for it.” by Annie Nova:

“You train if you go on a hike or run a 5K race,” said Dr. Michael Englesbe, a professor of surgery at the University of Michigan. “But we never train our patients for their operations.” 

That’s changing.

At the University of California San Francisco’s Surgery Wellness Program, older patients gear up for surgery by meeting with dieticians, physical and occupational therapists. The program will soon launch a digital app called Prehab Pal, in which algorithms prescribe older patients a plan to prepare for their surgery.

Ooney advisor and Chair of the American College of Surgeons Geriatric Surgery Task Force also spoke to the importance of prehabilitation:

“Prep is as important if not more important than the surgery itself,” said Dr. Ronnie Rosenthal, chair of the American College of Surgeons Geriatric Surgery Task Force.

Because it can be hard to find the resources, and there are challenges to billing Medicare for this work, many of these innovative efforts around presurgery care are still limited to larger hospitals.

Yet experts say much of the preparation can be undertaken anywhere. (You should, of course, always consult with your doctor first).

Dr. Emily Finlayson and PrehabPal featured in California Healthline

Our Application PrehabPal was highlighted in the article “A Push To Get Older Adults In Better Shape For Surgery” published by California Healthline.

Excerpted here:

Surgery can be hard on older adults, resulting in serious complications and death far more often than in younger patients. But many seniors aren’t adequately prepared for the risks they might face.

Innovative hospitals such as Duke University Medical Center, the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center and Michigan Medicine are working to change that. In the weeks leading up to surgery, they prescribe exercise to seniors, make sure they’re eating healthy foods and try to minimize anxiety and stress, among other initiatives.

Research suggests these interventions can enhance seniors’ readiness for surgery and potentially lead to improved outcomes. “Changing how we approach older patients is really an imperative,” said Dr. Emily Finlayson, director of the Center for Surgery in Older Adults at UCSF.

 

And highlights Dr. Finlayson’s work and PrehabPal here:

At UCSF’s Surgery Wellness program for older adults, patients are seen by a geriatrician, nutritionist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and a health coach. Consultations last about 90 minutes and result in concrete suggestions for seniors and their families as well as referrals, if needed, to specialists who can undertake more extensive evaluations.

Hoping to expand the reach of UCSF’s approach, Finlayson and colleagues are developing a website and digital app, Prehab Pal, that will walk older adults and their caregivers through surgery prep. Created with input from seniors, it will have large-text fonts and easy-to-use design features. “We’re putting the final touches on the first product and will pilot in March,” Finlayson said.

 

Follow Up Visits After Surgery Reduced by App Usage

A new clinical trial published in JAMA shows promising results.

Costs and Consequences of Early Hospital Discharge After Major Inpatient Surgery in Older Adults
Question

For patients undergoing ambulatory surgery, can follow-up care via a mobile app avert in-person visits compared with conventional, in-person follow-up care during the first 30 days after the operation?

Findings

In this randomized clinical trial of 65 patients, those who used the mobile app attended fewer in-person visits for follow-up care during the first 30 days after the operation than patients in the in-person follow-up care group. This difference was statistically significant.

Meaning

Follow-up care delivered via a mobile app can be used to avert in-person visits following ambulatory surgery.

Read more on JAMA.