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.