3 Do’s and Don'ts of Technology Use for Older Adults

While technology offers seniors numerous benefits, it’s also important for adults to keep in mind the health risks and emotional hazards that come with its use. Check out these 3 essential do’s and don’ts of technology use for older adults:

DO: Give technology a try.

According to the Pew Research Center, twice as many seniors own smartphones than did just 6 six years go and internet adoption continues to rise with over 65 percent of seniors saying they get online regularly. If you are still unsure or weary of the technology learning curve, try checking out free local programs that connect seniors with young tutors, visit Youtube to find helpful how-to videos, or simply test out technology programs at your local library.

DON’T: Let your body pay the price.

An increase in technology use whether it’s playing a game on your smartphone, surfing the web on your computer, or even simply watching TV in the evening can quickly equal an increase in sedentary behavior. In addition, practicing poor posture while sitting and overusing your arm, hand, and wrist can lead to injuries like carpal tunnel and mouse elbow.

Experts recommend getting up to stretch and move around at least once an hour during prolonged bouts of sitting. And for wrist pain and inflammation that result from excessive typing and improper wrist alignment, always make sure your arms form a 90-degree angle with the desk or table at which you type. You may also consider getting a wrist rest that sits in front of your keyboard and wearing a wrist brace if you already experience symptoms of carpal tunnel.

DO: Use technology to connect with others.

Social media platforms provide a unique way for seniors to connect with friends, family, support groups, and local community organizations. A reported 41 percent of seniors use Facebook alone to check in with friends, comment on status updates, share pictures, learn about upcoming community events, etc.

Technology can also be a good way to stay in contact with people, especially distant friends and relatives. Video chat services like Facetime, Google Duo, and Skype allow you to see and speak with people using your smartphone or computer (with webcam), and they are free when used over Wifi.

DON’T: Let technology be the only way to connect with others.

Sometimes a digital cleanse is in order, especially if you are finding that the only social interaction you have with others is over social media. It can be easy to develop feelings of loneliness or inadequacy when you are seemingly inundated with photos, videos, and status updates that amplify all the wonderful things other people your age are doing. The innate compulsion to measure your life against the highlight reels you see on social media is natural but studies have shown that the social comparison that happens when you spend time on Facebook can actually lead to depressive symptoms.

Balance your social media activity with in-person engagement like getting coffee with a friend, attending a fitness class at your local senior center, or volunteering weekly at a nonprofit you support. Prioritizing social interaction can help keep your mind sharp, your heart happy, and your body healthy.

DO: Let technology assist your caregiving duties.

If you are one of the millions of adults over 50 helping to care for an aging parent or a spouse, you may find technology helps make you a more efficient caregiver. Digital calendars and pill reminders, apps that help you refill prescriptions with a tap, online portals to access important medical records and communicate with doctors . . . advancements in technology continue to simplify loads of caregiving duties and give family caregivers a positive outlet to connect with support communities.

DON’T: Let technology play doctor.

Self-diagnosing symptoms based on articles you read online can be misleading. In fact, a 2015 Harvard Medical School study published in the British Journal of Medicine found that general internet searches and even web-based symptom checking tools often get diagnoses wrong. After feeding 45 clinical stories into 23 different online symptom checkers, researchers found that the software algorithms spitting out potential diagnoses only listed the correct diagnosis as first 34 percent of the time.

While fairly inaccurate, these symptom checkers can still offer some positive help though. They can be a helpful indicator of whether your loved one should seek immediate medical attention or not. The ultimate lesson, don’t place all your caregiving eggs in the internet research basket. When in doubt, call your loved one’s doctor and connect with fellow caregivers who have been through similar situations who may be able to shed some light.