Retirement is supposed to be a time of well-deserved rest and relaxation after years spent working hard and raising a family. But for many seniors, life beyond work when the kids are out of the house is also a time of profound loneliness.
According to research conducted by Senior Living, 43 percent of older adults experience chronic loneliness. This is especially worrisome when taken into account that chronic loneliness causes high levels of stress and is as hazardous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
This sort of loneliness is born out of a series of factors; Often, seniors that experience chronic loneliness live alone, perhaps in an assisted living facility, but without the companionship of a spouse or children.
Over half of seniors over the age of 75 are not online, making it difficult for them to connect with family members via the channels that their children and grandchildren are most familiar with, like email, messaging apps, and social networks.
But all is not lost. In fact, the very technology that causes health and wellness problems in Millennials can actually be a lifeline for seniors living alone.
The benefits of interactive bots
Smartphones and tablets have become a necessity for a lot of the world, but it’s easy to forget that they’re not always so intuitive for seniors. They’re pretty complex with small buttons and a tiny keyboard; for seniors who may have declining eyesight or joint pain, they’re often more trouble than they’re worth.
Household voice assistants, however like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are an excellent solution to seniors’ need to connect. While smart speakers are helpful for all age groups, the benefit of getting information without having to move around or navigate the internet is especially valuable for seniors, who may have lost some ease of movement or aren’t comfortable online.
Voice assistants are often programmed to tell jokes and play music, so they offer entertainment as well as practicality. A few assisted housing communities have even begun to give residents Alexa to give them something to interact with.
Enter bots like ElliQ, who are taking senior productivity to the next level. Specifically designed to help seniors living alone, with safety, day-to-day functionality, and isolation concerns, ElliQ acts like a more interactive, more attentive smart speaker.
She proactively initiates interactions rather than waiting to be activated by her user.
For example, when her user wakes up in the morning, she might suggest they watch a fascinating nature video if she knows the user is an animal lover, or call a family member if there hasn’t been contact for a few days. She’ll remind her owner of appointments and when to take meds, and even crack a joke or two.
This sort of technology gives seniors a way to be connected to their family members and to know what’s going on in the world without requiring them to log onto a computer or operate a small, difficult-to-navigate smartphone.
Technology affects younger and older people differently
But isn’t too much technology bad for the brain? Plenty of studies and news stories have been circulating about the negative effects of technology on people’s sociability, psyche, and connectivity, but it’s important to note that most of these studies are geared towards Millennials and Generation Z–those who’ve grown up plugged in.
It’s true that Millennials and young people who’ve been immersed in technology from a young age can be more prone to loneliness, when they become too dependent on tech.
Technology has given younger generations theoretical access to a larger network of friends, but in reality social media and prolonged screen time makes it harder to connect with humans face-to-face and has led to increased feelings of isolation, insecurity, and depression in Millennials and Generation Z.
But for older folks who haven’t grown up immersed in technology and the internet, these symptoms are less of a concern.
Seniors can focus on helpful, intuitive technology that’s easily activated by voice to stay connected with family, access the news, and even play games to keep their brains active – as opposed to harmful apps that suck up all their attention to the exclusion of everything else.
Since seniors haven’t grown up constantly inundated by screens, they’re able to benefit from this kind of interactive technology without worrying as much about the kinds of dangerous side effects that can afflict younger generations.
There are dozens more practical applications of this kind of tech for seniors — a few prominent companies include the health care concierge service Joany, Rendever, which offers VR travel experiences for seniors, and GoGoGrandparent, an over-the-phone service that sends Lyfts or Ubers to seniors who don’t use smartphones.
Not to mention wearable tech like Apple Watch, which now acts like a traditional emergency support wristband while also providing communication with loved ones, games, and Siri’s bad jokes.
In the past, we might have been hesitant to introduce technology into seniors’ lives out of a concern that they wouldn’t use it.
But now, as technology is becoming more accessible, it’s up to us to introduce seniors to life-changing tech they might not otherwise hear about.