Color & Control:

Seniors aren’t technophobic after all

From food delivery apps and fitness trackers to video calls and social media, older Canadians have upped their use of many technologies and online services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clearly the pandemic has been a catalyst for increased technology use among older Canadians, with most being “unfazed by technology” according to scientists. Seniors have increased their use of video calls as a way to communicate with family and friends. About a quarter (23%) of Canadians 65+ now use video calling on their smartphones; in fact, that’s twice as many as in 2019, 6 in 10 of whom report increased use due to COVID -19.

When it comes to social media, so popular with a younger demographic, older adults are populating the platforms too. Over one-third (37%) say they use social media to communicate with family and friends (of whom 4 out of 10 report utilizing it more as a mode of communication due to COVID -19).

Compared to 2019, they are more present on YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook (which 68% now use). And with many seniors staying at home more during COVID -19, almost 20% used online shopping for essential items, like groceries, for “health, wellness and/or independence” (with almost 60% claiming to utilizing it more due to COVID -19).

The survey results also show that 72% of Canadians aged 65+ now feel confident using current technology. “With these findings, we can set aside any notion that older adults are technophobic.

Lessening the impact of COVID

Olive Bryanton, 83, of Hampshire, Prince Edward Island, can’t imagine life in the time of COVID-19 without technology. “It has kept me sane, especially in the early part when we couldn’t go out and family couldn’t come to visit.” She’s been on Zoom “almost constantly” since COVID-19 began, participating in and presenting at virtual meetings and webinars, and connecting with family. She takes to Twitter and Facebook more often, and attended a wedding via live stream.

The new survey also looks at the impact of the pandemic on age-related concerns among older Canadians, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. About half of respondents aged 50+ are now more concerned about health and about losing loved ones. Forty-six per cent are significantly or somewhat more concerned about moving to a nursing home, and 43% feel that way about moving to a retirement home.

On the positive side, over two-thirds (66%) of Canadians over 50 agree that technological advancements can help to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on daily life. The majority agree that technological advances can help them maintain relationships with family and friends, reduce social isolation, pursue hobbies, manage health, maintain mental health and stay safe, independent and active as they age.

The poll also found that half of Canadians aged 50+ are willing to pay out-of-pocket for technology that helps manage health and wellness. Almost seven in 10 are willing to pay out-of-pocket
for technology that allows them to stay at home as they age. Among other key findings:

Technology use

• 88% of Canadians aged 65+ use the internet daily.

• 30% of those 65+ are streaming; over four in 10 (45%) of them report increased online streaming due to COVID-19.

• 52% of Canadians aged 50+ had a telehealth appointment in the past three months, and 79% of those who had one were satisfied with it. Experience with video appointments is still limited (7%).

• Over a quarter (29%) of Canadians 65+ use social media for “health, wellness and/or independence” (of whom 42% report utilizing it more due to COVID-19).

• Among those 65+, 68% use Facebook (up from 63% in 2019), 40% use YouTube (up from 37%), 19% are on Instagram (up from 15%), 18% use Twitter (up from 16%), and 16% use WhatsApp (up from 11%).

• 17% of Canadians 65+ use video calls on a desktop or laptop; 56% of whom report increased use due to COVID-19.

• 13% of Canadians 65+ now use exercise or activity apps or trackers; one in five (19%) of those have increased their use due to COVID-19.

• 13% of those 65+ engage in online activities such as book clubs and games; 50% of whom have ramped up these activities due to COVID-19.

• 11% of Canadians aged 65+ use voice-assisted tech, e.g., Google Home; 18% of whom are using this tech more due to COVID-19.

• 7% of those 65+ use food delivery apps; 45% of whom have increased their use of these apps due to COVID-19.

Current attitudes

• 48% of Canadians over the age of 50 are optimistic about aging (compared to 56% in 2019).

• 66% of Canadians aged 50+ have felt isolated at least some of the time during COVID-19.

• Half of respondents feel that technology has had a positive impact on their lives during COVID-19 (45% say neither positive nor negative).

Technology that “manages independence” is most popular, with over half of users of tech/services such as wearable digital devices, online shopping for essential items, exercise/activity trackers and webinars/online classes reporting a positive impact on their health and wellness.

“At a time when older adults face enormous challenges, it is encouraging to see that many are reaching for technologies, online services and apps to help,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, AGE-WELL Scientific Co-Director and CEO. “They are receptive to technology that allows them to stay in their own homes, and open to virtual health and virtual community with family and friends.” AGE-WELL teams are developing a wide range of technologies, services and policies/practices to help older Canadians maintain their independence, health and quality of life. These include health apps, wearable therapies, smart-home systems and socially assistive robots.

Central to all of this is ensuring that new technologies are user-friendly and practical, including for people with disabilities. Connectivity is another challenge. “Despite the increasing use of technology by seniors, we need to remember that some people are still losing out and there is a digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots. We need to make sure that technologies are accessible, affordable and available to all.”

About the survey

Commissioned by AGE-WELL, the Environics Research survey was conducted between July 16 and July 27, 2020, interviewing 2,026 Canadians over the age of 50. 1,576 (78%) participated via an online panel, and 450 respondents (22%) were contacted by telephone. This is the second AGE-WELL survey of its kind, the first being in 2019. A number of pandemic-related questions were added to the 2020 survey.

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