Older Adults Are Obsessed With These Five Tech Topics | Kanebridge News
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Older Adults Are Obsessed With These Five Tech Topics

Fitness wearables and password managers are among the hottest topics for people ages 50 and up

Thu, Apr 6, 2023 10:11amGrey Clock 5 min

The residents of a retirement community in the heart of Amish country are proving what experts on ageing have been saying for years: Older adults are as keen on new technologies as anyone else.

Willow Valley Communities, a 2,600-resident campus in Lancaster, Pa., has a tech centre staffed by volunteers. People can drop in for tech help or get their computers fixed. It also has an active computer club and an Apple products group that offer resident-taught classes.

The challenges of the pandemic accelerated tech adoption among older adults who, initially, just needed ways to communicate with far-flung loved ones. People ages 50 and older each spent an average of $912 on technology last year, up from $394 in 2019, according to the AARP.

But barriers remain as older Americans go beyond the video call. There is a lack of training programs and a concern that products aren’t always designed for an ageing populace, the organisation says.

Approximately 2,600 retirees live at Willow Valley Communities in Lancaster, Pa. PHOTO: MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

At Willow Valley, many of the residents are focused on technology that can keep them active but won’t open them up to scams or frauds.

“Older adults aren’t into tech for tech’s sake,” says Jeff Weiss, chief executive of Age of Majority, a consulting firm that helps companies market to older adults. “For them to want to use and adopt technology, there has to be a practical reason.”

During my conversations with ageing experts and Willow Valley residents, these five topics came up again and again:

Health wearables

Wearable devices for tracking health and fitness are the hottest technology among older adults, according to leaders at several aging-tech organisations and companies. The AARP says 28% of older Americans own a wearable and 77% of those people use it daily.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people ages 65 and older need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense activity, such as brisk walking, as well as strength and balance exercises.

Trish Macvaugh, a 76-year-old Willow Valley resident, began swimming competitively three years ago. She uses her Apple Watch Series 6 to log her heart rate and more particular stats, too. There’s her “swolf” score, the number of strokes taken plus the time it takes to swim a certain length, and her “VO2 max,” the maximum amount of oxygen she takes in during intense exercise.

Ms. Macvaugh, who began swimming competitively three years ago, tracks her heart rate, strokes and oxygen level on her Apple Watch Series 6. MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I can compare all of that to what I was doing a month ago, and it’s really encouraging to see how much I’m improving,” says Ms. Macvaugh, who is planning to compete in her second National Senior Games this summer.

A retired professor of English and women’s studies and mother of two, she also uses her Apple Watch to track her walking steadiness, as well as her performance when lifting weights and using the elliptical machine.

For tech advice, she turns to fellow resident Susan Culbertson, a 76-year-old retired computer-software trainer. Last fall, Ms. Culbertson created classes at Willow Valley to teach others how to use Apple products. The classes have gotten so popular, they’ve occasionally run out of seats for people in the conference room where they take place.

Using the iPhone’s Health app and tracking Apple Watch metrics—beyond just step counting—are top subjects. “People want to stay fit as long as possible,” Ms. Culbertson says.

Home assistants

Many residents at Willow Valley use voice-activated home assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio. They’re rising in popularity among older adults across the country, with one in three older adults owning one. Approximately 60% of the older adults who own a home assistant use it daily, the AARP says.

As with other age groups, older adults use home assistants largely to play music, ask questions, check weather or traffic and set alarms or timers.

Streaming services

Ms. Culbertson says that Willow Valley residents are very interested in streaming movies and shows and that many residents no longer watch network television. She recently taught a class on how to use Apple TV.

Older adults are fuelling the growth in video-streaming and subscribing to multiple services, including Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max.

They’re also combining their interest in streaming content with their interest in fitness. Older Adults Technology Services from AARP, a nonprofit that teaches tech to older adults, streams free fitness classes via Zoom. Its stretch classes have been wildly popular, says OATS Executive Director Tom Kamber.

Password protection

Al Williams, president of Willow Valley’s 845-member computer club, says password protection has been a hot topic among older people since news broke that the password manager LastPass was hacked.

Al Williams, head of Willow Valley’s computer club, advises residents to protect their accounts with strong passwords. PHOTO: MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Williams, an 83-year-old retired engineer, recently gave a presentation on choosing strong passwords and using password managers. (My colleague Nicole Nguyen says physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone when logging into an account—offer even more protection.)

A recent poll from Age of Majority found that only 37% of people ages 55 and older use a password manager.

Scam prevention

Older adults have fallen prey to all kinds of scams conducted online and by phone.

OATS from AARP offers free online classes for older adults who want to burnish their digital skills, including one later this month on how to protect your personal information online.

Some of Ms. Culbertson’s Apple classes have been so popular, they’ve run out of seats. PHOTO: MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Williams says Willow Valley residents are interested in this, too. He plans to give a “Scammers and other invasive species” presentation to teach people to recognise social engineering.

Teaching tech to a span of older adults, ranging from 55 to over 90, requires a certain skill. “The main thing we have to do,” he says, “is to talk about tech in terms of solving a problem, not as a lecture.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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