Seniors Have Trouble Using Tech, Feel Lack of Support from their Kids
Wed, April 21, 2021

Seniors Have Trouble Using Tech, Feel Lack of Support from their Kids

They found that there is a high level of tech ownership in the elderly population but they only have a moderate confidence level in using the technology. Many still admit having trouble using the technology and felt that they lack the support they need from their kids / Photo by: Tyler Olson via 123RF


“Why is this phone so complicated?”, “This computer drives me crazy!”, and “Why do I have to learn all this when I’m already 60?” These are the common complaints people hear from the elderly trying to use new technology. Although some have already embraced the digital space, others can barely maneuver a mobile app. This is why they may purchase smartphones, tablets, and laptops, but they are not confident in using all these.

A Survey of 750 Seniors in Australia

Dr. Bernardo Figueiredo and Dr. Torgeir Aleti, RMIT University's senior lecturer and lecturer in marketing, respectively, surveyed 750 seniors in Australia. Most of these participants were already over 70 years old. They found that there is a high level of tech ownership in the elderly population but they only have a moderate confidence level in using the technology. Many still admit having trouble using the technology and felt that they lack the support they need from their kids.

To be more particular, many senior participants said that their own families display the attitude that they don’t have time to teach them how to use the gadgets. Such a kind of attitude is “very unhelpful,” the researchers added.

The survey likewise revealed seniors were more comfortable using computers but encountered most difficulty when using tablets. Among the elderly who need tech advice, 44% would first approach their adult children and 23% said they consider their children as a second choice. This is because they are not always helped or welcomed with a smile. They believe that their adult children don’t have the willingness and patience to help them.

Emotional Tension When Explaining New Apps

In a collaborative approach to determine the role of technology in promoting social connectedness among older adults, Dr. Figueiredo and Dr. Aleti joined forces with other researchers for follow-up interviews. Their findings shod that explaining the constantly evolving tech and the new apps in the market to someone who is not digitally inclined or a digital native carries emotional tension. Some adults do not want their older parents to have more gadgets because it would also mean work on their part. Mary, one of the elderly interviewed, said that her daughter would not allow her to use the computer. “She said I didn’t need it,” Mary shared.

Other seniors do not want to ask their adult children for help because they do not want to show that they are technologically inept or do not want to show their independence. Some seniors prefer not to ask questions about technology to their adult children to maintain family relationships, others to avoid conflict.

Grandchildren, More Eager to Help

The authors discovered that although adult children are less likely to help, grandchildren are way friendlier. They are even eager to advise their grandparents. However, only 7% of seniors want to go to their grandkids first. “My grandchild is far more tolerant than my grown-up adult children are,” Jenny, 72, said.

Figueiredo and Aleti, however, emphasized that although grandchildren are willing to help, they tend to solve the problem without really teaching the seniors how to do it themselves. So, the seniors’ next option after their adult children would be to go to professionals. Their study shows that 15% of seniors would prefer going to tech professionals first but 21% said it is only their second option. There are professionals who help the elderly with their own agenda, and eventually push for products that the seniors don't actually need.

For seniors involved in the study, using the technology allows them to get information and stay updated, keep in touch with their family and friends, coordinate events and activities, have access to experiences, services, and products, and participate in or belong to communities.

Technology Use Among the Elderly Population: Statistics

Nonpartisan American think tank Pew Research explains that smartphone ownership in the US has doubled in the last five years. Roughly four in ten seniors in the US are smartphone owners. Around 59% of seniors between 65 and 69 years old are smartphone owners. There are also 49% US adults ages 70-74 who say they own a smartphone, and the same goes for 31%  of those 75-79 years old, and 17% of those 80+ years old.

Smartphone ownership among seniors was also correlated with educational attainment and household income. Around 81% of seniors in the US whose annual household income is US$75,000 or more say they own a smartphone, as well as 53% seniors for those with annual household income of 50,000 or more but lower than $75,000, 32% ($30k-<$50k), and 27% (<$30k).

Scientific online publication Our World in Data likewise published the technology adoption in US households, measured in percentage: 42% had internet access in 2000, 57% in 2004, 62% in 2006, 68% in 2008, 74% in 2010, 81% in 2012, 83% in 2014, and 88% in 2016.

There are also other challenges that seniors encounter when using technology. These include physical limitations, manual dexterity, and visual impairments. Two in five seniors say they have health or physical conditions that make it difficult for them to read using technologies.

For us to help our older relatives or friends reach the digital space, we should set aside some time to teach them how to use their device, according to Figueiredo and Aleti. That could help seniors boost their overall confidence. Once they learn how to use the tech, they might finally be able to use it independent of help. You may also send them YouTube links on instructional videos that can guide them. Once seniors get past the knowledge threshold, they can search for other information on their own using the technology.

Many seniors have considered YouTube a great help in learning digital skills because it enables them to watch and search for content at their own pace/ They can even repeat the video as many times as they want until they learn the skills.

There are many barriers that seniors face in adopting technology but the most common is a lack of guidance and instructions. Knowing that it is important for the elderly to keep learning, relatives can take part in teaching them the basics so they can eventually use technology on their own.