“Necessity is the mother of invention” is most often attributed to Plato, although he actually wrote, “Our need will be the real creator.” But you get the point. This often-quoted phrase, however, really sums up what many are referring to as a tech boom among America’s older population segment. Despite the toll that COVID has taken among older Americans, the 60+ cohort of our citizens is projected to grow 65% between the beginning of this decade and 2040. This, despite a near record slow population growth of the overall population since 2020 and a heavy death toll among our oldest.
This older cadre of Americans also represents a growing share of Americans who embrace social media, online applications in finance and healthcare and even digital gaming. Research shows that more than 60% of the 60+ year old contingent have visited a social networking site at least weekly and more than one in five also has engaged in video gaming each week. More than four of every five 60+ year-olds have a smartphone. They are also the dominant segment of the high income market with companies and developers working harder to make their technologies more available and more useful to these older gamers and surfers.
Necessity came into play not just because older adults are more affluent, but they also have represented greater demand for health applications to compensate for the isolation and dangers of our COVID pandemic. It may have started with “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” but it now extends to virtual health visits with providers and remote downloads of key biometrics, all facilitated by cellular communications. Medical “concierge” practices are popping up that offer virtual visits as well as same day answers to text, email or telephone inquires for a fee. And 60+ year-olds – as well as the rest of us – can carry access to their bank accounts on their phones. “Help, I’ve fallen” has expanded to give digital access to family and friend calls ala ZOOM and a host of other platforms.
If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, don’t just give your loved one a “wellness call;” do a connectedness call to be sure your loved one can reach their health care providers, their drug store and don’t leave out the plumber, the handyman or ever their fitness trainer. Remember that restaurants and grocers are still bringing to your older loved one’s door just about everything that they used to make the drive themselves to secure.
Plan your next visit – and this may be virtual — with your older loved one around their social media access, their household needs, their social and fitness needs, their banking and finance needs and consider how you can loop their front doorbell into their phone as well as their HVAC and lighting. Technology wants access to the “older” and affluent market as much as your older loved one wants to take charge with the controls in the palms of their hands. Don’t think of digital connectedness as an intrusion – although it can be – think of it as the new “village.” Just as it takes a village to raise a child, this same village lends support and connectivity to our older loved ones as well.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.