technologyThe number of older adults using and in fact embracing technology is climbing almost as fast as you can say “What-the-heck-is-augmented-reality?” Seniors, just like the general population, are increasingly using technology through their smartphones and tablets. While these devices are fun to use (and one should never underestimate the importance of ‘fun’), even more importantly they can help to maintain social connectedness, facilitate safety, maintain cognitive abilities, monitor wellness, track fitness and more.

There’s not much in life that is more beneficial than the presence of others. Social connectedness is a key component in the well-being of everyone, including older adults. Smartphones and tablets in general can help stay directly in touch with family and friends through phone calls and texts. Skype and Facetime are video calling applications accessible on smartphones, tablets and computers, that allow people to visit in real time, ‘face-to-face’ virtually anywhere in the world. Staying in touch in a more indirect way includes using social media such as Facebook.

An app, short for ‘application’ is a software program designed to provide various functions on a smartphone or tablet. Last year, reported that there were more than 2.2 million apps available in the Apple App Store, and more than 2.8 million for non-Apple (Android) users. Those numbers have no doubt grown significantly since that time. What that means, is that there’s an app for virtually anything…many nonsensical and just for ‘fun’ and some purely for entertainment, but also, many to make life easier, safer or more connected for seniors.

Basic apps share information about weather, news, transportation and schedules. Utility apps can assist with math (calculator), light, magnification and more. All available at the simple touch of your fingers.

Global Positioning Systems known as GPS navigation apps, not only share directions on how to get somewhere, but can also help locate individuals who may wander off or be lost or injured.

Smartphone apps can also help monitor fitness. The Apple Health app which is built into the newer model iPhones, provides information on daily steps, the number of flights of stairs climbed, and even sleep quality. Apps can also help to track pulse rate, calorie intake and more. MapMyWalk, a free app, helps, as the name suggests, map out walking tracks and then record duration, pace, speed, history and more. The same type of app is available for running and bike rides. There’s an enormous variety of fitness apps available for all interests and ability levels.

When medical information is tracked, the result is often better health outcomes because the process helps monitor and adjust habits and lifestyles. Through apps, you can track weight, diet and food intake and blood pressure. Apps like InstantHeartRate can even monitor one’s heartbeat just by using the smartphone’s camera.

An important function that can be served by smartphone apps is medication management. Apps such as Pillboxie and Medcoach can alert users when it’s time to take different medications, provide reminders if the medication isn’t taken on time and prompt the user when it’s time to arrange for a refill.

Maintaining cognitive function is important and made easy as well as fun, through a series of apps such as brain games. Lumosity was developed by neuroscientists to promote memory and strategic thinking. Games like Words with Friends and other such word games are thought to fight dementia, while also facilitating social interaction. Clevermind provides puzzles and brain games with a special emphasis on being easy to navigate with voice commands and large buttons for operation.

The idea of technology can be intimidating at first but once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. But how to begin? Two words: Get help. There are lots of places to learn the basics right here in Milwaukee:

  1. Book a session with a professional technology advisor. There are a variety of classes out there where tech pros will teach you the basics. Check out these free classes at the Milwaukee Public Library.
  2. Waukesha County Technical College offers a Learning in Retirement program with a wide variety of classes including computers.
  3. Look into the programs offered at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UWM, within close proximity to Eastcastle
  4. Book a session with your grandchild (or child) for a technology tutorial. Treat them to lunch afterwards as a thank you.

The most important lesson is to keep a sense of humor about technology. For a good laugh, check out this Saturday Night Live sketch about senior citizens using a fictional version of Alexa, Amazon’s voice activated assistant.