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Survey Finds Seniors Avoid Digital Elder Care Tools

by Richard Bitner
Survey Finds Seniors Avoid Digital Elder Care Tools

Over the past decade, the world has seen major advancements in the digital arena. A number of these advancements have been in the elder care field, helping seniors live healthier and more comfortably — or so the teams behind these advancements claim. But these new elder care apps and digital devices can’t help seniors who refuse to use them. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what’s happening. Survey Finds Seniors Avoid Digital Elder Care Tools
American seniors simply aren’t eager to use digital elder care tools, according to a new national survey by the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). With these findings, elder care professionals and families with elderly individuals will need to re-evaluate the way they approach elder care.

Seniors Resistant to Digital Health Technologies

The findings of the study have surprised many. While seniors are known for their reluctance to adapt to new technology, over the past few years, more and more seniors have been adapting to digital tools. These trends were reflected in the survey, which found that 76% of seniors used cellphones, 64% used computers, and 43% used the internet.
This has largely been thanks to the increased user-friendliness of modern smartphones, tablets, and web design. By making technology more intuitive, tablet and smartphone makers have broken down the barriers to seniors accessing new technology. Many have assumed that the increased user-friendliness of elder care-related tools would similarly mean that a high percentage of seniors would be attracted to those tools.
But while senior use of smartphones and tablets is up, seniors are still reluctant to use new technology for health-specific purposes. In fact, only 16% of seniors accessed health information online, and fewer than 10% of seniors used digital tools that helped fill prescriptions, contact clinicians, or handle insurance.
Perhaps more worrying is the slow growth of these technologies. While use of smartphones and digital technologies exploded in other areas over the period covered by the survey, researchers found only a modest increase in the number of seniors using digital elder care tools.
“Digital health is not reaching most seniors,” say the study’s authors. “Our findings suggest that present-day digital health may not be the best approach to improving the health of seniors and reducing the costs associated with caring for this population.”

What This Means for Elder Care

The study’s findings have broad implications for families and elder care professionals — such as those at companies like Visiting Angels. If seniors continue to avoid digital health technologies, those responsible for elder care will need to rely on more traditional approaches.
“The findings of the NHATS study, while disappointing, are a positive step,” says Visiting Angels President and CEO, Larry Meigs. “With this information, we now have a stronger sense of what works best — and what doesn’t — when caring for today’s seniors.”
Meigs says that with seniors’ reluctance to use digital devices for health purposes, family caregivers and professional care workers will need to fall back on more traditional care strategies. Meigs encourages caregivers to adopt an in-person approach to elder care. He says this approach offers the emotional and conversational benefits of face-to-face contact along with the ability to spot care shortcomings earlier.
Meigs, and others in the elder care industry, hold out hope that continuing advances in digital technologies will soon catch up with seniors’ attitudes and lifestyles. This hope, it seems, is shared by the NHATS study authors, who write, “Future innovations should focus on usability, adherence and scalability to improve the reach and effectiveness of digital health for seniors.”
If your loved one is having trouble with age-related health difficulties at home and other elder care strategies, such as digital tools, aren’t working, you might want to look at in-home elder care. To connect with an elder care provider in your area, contact Visiting Angels.

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