Health Tech and the Elderly: An Evolving Relationship

Published March 27, 2017

Since the industrial revolution, every new generation has introduced technological innovations that make our lives better. The telegraph replaced the pony express. The telephone replaced the telegraph, and so on. And it is a commonplace belief that the older citizens resist or reject technological changes, preferring to stick to trusted and familiar ways of living.

Today, many young people believe that seniors resist using a computer to browse the internet, or utilize smartphones and apps. However, the truth is that technology has its critics in every generation, young and old. And seniors can be just as willing or unwilling as the case may be, to embrace technology. This is particularly the case with internet-based medical technology.


It is true that as we age we tend to feel nostalgia for the days of our youth. But does anybody really want to return to dial-up modems? How about rotary telephones? Even the senior generation appreciates and takes advantage of technological innovations.

The truth is that everybody is at least a little skeptical of those innovations. A recent survey suggested that more than 50 percent of all respondents are skeptical about healthcare information technologies such as electronic medical records. And a full 70 percent do not trust health technology, largely due to privacy concerns.

If You Build It…

The same survey found that medical institutions, particularly smaller hospitals, aren’t doing a very good job teaching seniors how to interact with technologies, such as patient portals and internet-based monitoring tools. As many as 92 percent of  such hospitals have not dedicated the resources necessary to teach seniors, or anyone else for that matter, on how to take advantage of these technologies. The best digital interface in the world is useless if no one takes the time to show you how it works.

Will seniors actually use internet-based medical technologies? A recent Pew Research study suggests that seniors are embracing the internet at a rapid pace, though the numbers remain low compared with the general population. In the year 2000, only 7 percent of people aged 75 and above went on line. A mere 15 years later that number is up to 50 percent. There is no reason to believe that this trend will slow down any time soon, especially as “boomers” become the new seniors.

Solutions for Seniors

As the center of gravity in the world of medicine moves away from the hospital and into the home, it becomes increasingly important that medical technologies adapt to meet the needs of actual people. In the case of seniors, this may mean interfaces that are easier to read, touch, and interact with.

It turns out that such technologies are already available. And resources are becoming available to teach seniors how to use these technologies. The Senior Planet Exploration Center, based in New York City, offers classes in use of devices and apps. Senior advocacy groups such as AARP are forging ahead with many such efforts. These organizations and the information they provide are especially valuable to seniors, who are frequent targets of internet scammers, some of whom may be peddling health-related products and services.

Tablet devices, that provide larger screens, and apps designed for hearing and visually impaired people are helping to bridge the gap between medical providers and seniors.

One of the most exciting advances for seniors may be the voice-driven computer. No longer has the stuff of science fiction, a computer that interacts with the user primarily through voice opened up a world of possibilities for maintaining and improving the health of seniors.

Seniors, like all other segments of the population, want to live at home and to remain healthy at home. Should they become ill, seniors want to recover from illness at home whenever possible. Internet-based technologies are rapidly making this possible for seniors. We should vigorously encourage development and deployment of these technologies.