Recently, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released an updated survey on internet and social media usage by Americans age 65 and older.  CNN, Report: More than half of seniors now use the Web.  For the first time, more than half (53%) of seniors use the internet or email.  Email is the most popular internet use, but the use of social media and other “apps” are growing steadily.  Now 34% of seniors use social media sites, and of those, 18% use them on a daily basis. 

In only two years, senior usage of social media sites has doubled.  The 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey showed that senior usage of social networks had quadrupled since 2008, from 4% to 16%.  See The Record (North, Bergen seniors joining peers as more logging online and using social media sites, according to report.   Apparently, however, seniors still lag behind in their adoption of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.  Sixty-nine percent of seniors now own a cell phone, but only 10% own a smartphone and only 8% use a tablet, according to the CNN Report.   

To me, these figures raised a number of issues, particularly as it relates to aging services providers.  For example, 

What must aging services providers do to maintain market share for the increasingly techno-savvy seniors? Are aging services providers prepared for the increased interaction that social media and technology will bring to the facility – whether between residents, between residents and staff, or simply residents surfing the net. 

This post will address the first and I will follow up on the second in a later post.

First, businesses which cater to older Americans must understand how seniors use (or will use) technology and social media.  Senior living communities need to plan for a future where nearly all individuals use technology in their daily lives.   As Pew discovered, in only four years, seniors have increased their social media usage from 4% to 34% – baby boomers will push that percentage higher as they age.  To that point, seniors have begun to look for high-tech amenities in their residences. 

Freddi Flax, a principal with Rick Stephan & Associates, a senior housing consulting firm, offered some good thoughts in his interview with the Senior Living News Wire, Technology Must Become High Priority for Senior Housing Operators.  He noted:

  • Seniors will ask for wireless access.  “We’re all getting more tech-friendly, and seniors are not different.”  More and more seniors now get their information and news via the internet, and also connect with family members, and proceed through their daily lives through the use of a computer.
  • Wireless access will be seen as a necessity, not a luxury.
  • Seniors will research your facility via the internet before moving in.  Seniors will turn to the facility’s website for information on the amenities, programs and care of the facility.  Operators should update sites to include interactive applications which engage and entice potential clients to visit or find out more information.
  • Seniors will increasingly use smartphones or tablets to track health and communicate with friends and families.  Facilities should know there are “apps available geared specifically toward seniors and their needs, including everything from health-monitoring apps to medical information apps.”  

In short, aging services providers must understand the changing demographics and attitudes of the senior community.  As society ages, we can expect those of us who grew up with technology (as well as those embraced it later in life) will increasingly demand such amenities and services of any care facility.  For those seniors who are not as up-to-date in their use of technology, they are increasingly looking to learn.

Volunteer programs are a great start.  For example, seniors in Bergen County, North Jersey, have a couple of avenues to learn the ins and outs of the internet.  There, a local church offers volunteer run programs to help seniors learn how to communicate via the internet.  At another location, high school students volunteer to educate seniors on how to operate computers, and navigate the programs most useful to them.  See,, Bergen seniors joining peers as more logging online and using social media sites, according to report.  A “Seniors Helping Seniors” program teaches all aspects of computer use – including how to operate an iPad or to Skype with family.  These practical programs could be a real selling point for aging services providers, and also a great way for volunteers to interact with residents.  One resident told “All my grandchildren know how to use it” [the iPad], but “I’ve had the iPad since January.  I like it but I sort of don’t know what I’m doing.”  That is a sentiment shared by many seniors.   

The future is now, and it’s here to stay.  Aging services providers will need to change and adapt to meet this growing technology need, or risk losing residents and income to a competitor who will.

If you are an aging services provider how do you meet the technological needs of your residents?  What are your plans as more seniors come to rely on senior facilities to provide access and information on technology use?