More Seniors Using Apps

A growing population of the elderly are turning to their cell phones for more than just phoning friends and family.
Seniors are using FaceTime and Skype to have video chats with family.


Pop culture is quick to have a laugh at seniors’ expense when it comes to technology, especially when it comes to cell phones. However, while seniors consistently have lower rates of tech adoption than younger generations, this segment of the population is actually more digitally connected than ever, with more seniors embracing mobile technology and utilizing apps on a regular basis.

According to recent data from Pew Research, four in 10 seniors are now using smartphones with apps — a number that has doubled in just the last five years. About a third of these seniors are using social media sites.

“The biggest challenge seniors face to utilize apps is that they don’t know how to confidently navigate through it,” explained Sunny Deakle, markeing director of the John J. Hainkel, Jr. Home and Rehabilitation Center in New Orleans. “They are less confident and need help from others to learn. We find that our residents that have family support, such as kids or grandkids, tend to use apps more often since they have help from others.”

D. Scott Crabtree, CEO and president of Broadway Services, Inc., operator of Lambeth House in New Orleans, assists with shaping and executing technology initiatives for LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technology (CAST), which focuses on identifying barriers and opportunities to facilitate the use of technology in an aging society.  

The secret to getting seniors to use apps, he said, is making things relevant for them.

“What is the hook or why?” he said. “In most cases, it’s staying connected to friends and family — whether that means video chatting with family, taking an Uber to visit friends or viewing Instagram photos from their granddaughter.”

Top Apps

Recent research by AARP revealed that for adults 50 and older, 90 percent of those with smartphones use their device primarily for sending texts or emails, while 75 percent use apps for getting directions or to find traffic information.  

The top apps for seniors, according to AARP, include email apps such as Apple mail and Gmail, weather apps and social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter  

“They are using Facebook and Instagram to see family photos,” Crabtree said. “They are not necessarily posting, but rather passively viewing content and photos. They are also using FaceTime and Skype to have video chats with family.”

Online dating apps for seniors are also popular. A few of the top dating sites for seniors include Silver Singles, Zoosk Seniors and OurTime — all of which cater to the 50-plus age group.

“They know what they want and have more experience to go off of,” Deakle said of seniors in the dating scene. “In some cases, they are using [apps] to find a friend or companion. All three of these apps are user-friendly and offer many safety features.”

Amie Hood, community relations director with Avanti Senior Living in Covington, said she too has seen interest in technology increase among residents.

“I am definitely noticing an upswing of seniors as far as apps go, as more have realized how much they can do,” she said. “I see a lot of them using apps for games, as they like killing time on them. I also see them using them for pulling up banking information and pharmacy information — things that impact them on a daily basis that they like having at their fingertips.”

One popular app utilized at the John J. Hainkel, Jr. Home & Rehabilitation Center is WebMD.

“We are in a healthcare facility and people are curious about their ailments and how they are feeling and would prefer immediate answers,” Deakle said. “Some are too embarrassed to ask a doctor or nurse, maybe not thinking it’s a big deal — but everyone loves to self-diagnosis, regardless of age.”

Among the future must-have apps on the healthcare front may be “What’s Covered,” a new app that allows Medicare beneficiaries to research whether the program will pay for a given medical item or service. The app was launched in January by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Tech Help Options

There are a number of places for seniors to learn about using apps. Local senior centers may have computer labs, community libraries often hold classes and Apple stores host daily trainings for people of all ages. Many progressive senior service providers provide technology training to their residents or customer base as well.

“We are working on a class now, but I think regardless of where the person is, education is key,” Deakle said. “Once a person feels confident using something, the more they will take advantage of all of the apps that are offered. There are so many helpful apps, it’s just a matter of teaching people how to use them.”


Apps Popular with Seniors Now

AARP (free): Provides a calendar of local events in the area, as well as retailers that offer discounts.

Lumosity (free but upgrade subscriptions available): A collection of word games, memory games and crossword puzzles

Senior Savings ($.99): Offers coupons and information on places in one’s area that offer senior discounts

Be my Eyes (free): Illuminates and magnifies newspapers, magazines, menus, etc. for those who have trouble reading small print

Red Panic Button (free): A medical alert for the phone that sends out a message to a pre-designated list of people to let them know if help is needed

Uber and Lyft (free): For those who cannot drive, ridesharing apps can be helpful.