The use of smartphones and tablet devices is rapidly increasing and becoming a commonplace aspect of American senior life. According to a study published earlier this year by Deloitte, individuals over the age of 55 represent the group exhibiting the fastest year-over-year rise in smartphone use.
Although a lot of older people are comfortable using their smartphones for making regular phone calls, using e-mail and looking up basic information on the Internet, for many, understanding the value and use of applications remains elusive. Only 25% of older people who use smartphones are estimated by Deloitte to have downloaded an app in the past, meaning that “getting [seniors] to exploit the data functions is a key opportunity for network providers.”
What are the barriers to app adoption by seniors?
There are probably several. Confusion about data plan pricing, small interface screens and “design by younger people, for younger people,” may all be factors that discourage seniors from downloading and using apps, per Deloitte’s assessment.
“Figuring out your app’s purpose and functionality is the most difficult part of app development,” noted mobile app developer Emily Futterman, writing for Fueled.com, and “this becomes compounded when your target audience isn’t inclined to download apps in the first place.”
“Grandma is not about to send a selfie that disappears in 10 seconds,” Futterman asserted. “She’s probably not going to consult her phone to figure out where to order dinner, and she’s definitely not going to check-in and publicize her location anywhere.
But that doesn’t mean that there are no apps on the market that are designed for seniors, or that would be beneficial for them to use. Designers are increasingly keeping older people in mind when developing new smartphone and tablet applications. And much of their thought process in development is driven by seniors’ unique needs.
How can applications be useful to seniors?
As small, powerful computers, smartphones and tablets can be easily used to organize and aggregate reminders, alarms and notes. This can be of tremendous use for seniors— many of whom have to manage multiple medications for ongoing chronic conditions— especially in those individuals who have difficulty remembering to take their medications or who have to monitor their vitals daily.
As Futterman stated, “Health care involves an assortment of nurses and doctors, each with different responsibilities, contact information, long and complicated prescription IDs, and appointments. They all need to come together somewhere, and there just aren’t enough Post-Its in the world to keep track of it all.”
The form of senior-friendly apps, she said, should follow the need for this function.
Other uses for applications can take advantage of smartphones’ sensor technologies, like still and video cameras, microphones and lights or sounds, to assist seniors that have sensory deficiencies, such as visual impairment or hearing loss.
What helpful apps already exist for senior citizens?
HeartWise, a blood pressure-tracking application by SwEng, LLC, costs 99 cents and is available for download through Apple’s iTunes service.
Users can input their home blood pressure readings, resting heart rate and weight. The app then inputs the data into a timeline, so that you or your physician can see changes in vital statistics over time. This can be of immense value to seniors with heart conditions, hypertension, or diabetes, for which regular monitoring over time is important for determining the progress of the disease, so that effective treatments can be rendered.
EyeReader, by NetSoft, essentially turns a smartphone into an electronic magnifying glass.
Once activated, the app turns on the smartphone or tablet’s built-in camera and flash, then displays an enlargement of whatever the user points the camera at. Seniors who have difficulty reading small text or reading in low light can benefit greatly from this function. The app costs $1.99 to download.
Park’n’Forget, by DragonHead, is a 99 cent solution for anyone who has ever experienced the intense frustration of forgetting where you left the car.
Using an easy-to-read, large, scrolling interface, a user can input the parking space number, parking garage level or section color where the car was left. The app will then remind the user of the car’s location. One can even enter the time he or she last fed the parking meter, so parking tickets and unnecessary towing bills can become a distant, unpleasant memory.
Yesterday USA is a free application for fans of old-time radio shows.
Released by the National Museum of Communications, which broadcasts recordings of shows that aired between the 1920s and 50s Each two-week cycle of shows includes 87 hours of vintage radio broadcasts.
Clevermind, developed by Veloce Designs, LLC, will hold interest for seniors who are concerned about maintaining their mental acuity.
The app is designed to help adults with Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive impairments surf the Internet and play games designed to challenge the brain. The app features large buttons, and easy-to-use, intuitive interface, cognitive assessment, tracking and reporting, and a journal function that seniors can use to keep a daily written record of their thoughts.
There are many applications waiting to be discovered by smartphone and tablet-using seniors.
A quick glance around Apple's iTunes store or the Android app downloader will reveal an astounding number of possibilities. With iPod Day (commemorating the 2001 unveiling of the first Apple iPod mobile music and app device) on October 23, now is the perfect time to go online, explore the app offerings and start expanding your digital comfort zone.
Senior life doesn't have to be analog. It can be as high-tech as you want to make it!