Complicating COVID stress: Technology gaps for seniors

Early on, when COVID vaccine appointments first became available for seniors age 75-plus, the online application asked the user to select their insurance. Most seniors have Medicare and selected that option. Next, they were instructed to upload a copy of their Medicare card.

Calls were coming in to Senior Concerns: “I am trying to make an appointment for a vaccine. Can you tell me what upload means?”

Seniors who used to schedule an in-person appointment to receive no-cost assistance in preparing their tax returns at Cal State Northridge are now being asked to make an appointment on the website, and on the day of their appointment they will receive an email with a private, encrypted link to HIPAA Zoom.

More calls came in: “What is an encrypted HIPPA Zoom?”

My friend receives paper statements from her investment firm, but recently was advised to enter “the portal” to access documents she needed for her taxes. She tells me, “I have lived 77 years not knowing what a portal is, and I am not about to learn now.”

This same friend forwarded me an email she received from her tax preparer with a standard Zoom invitation. She was amused at the insanity of the invite.

“It had nine phone numbers to call and two of them referred to ‘one-tap mobile,’” she said.

She said that if she wanted to call in to that meeting she had no idea which number to call and no idea what “one-tap mobile” was.

A Progressive Insurance commercial pokes fun at homeowners who have “turned into their parents.” They are instructed on how to behave “normally” from a character named Dr. Rick. In one segment Dr. Rick tells the group, “We are going to open a PDF, who’s next?” and the characters back away in fear and shake their heads no.

The commercial is taking a humorous jab at a real challenge. With the rapid adoption during the pandemic of technology for everything—getting groceries, tax preparation, healthcare appointments— many seniors are finding it difficult to access vital services.

My same 77-year-old friend said that though she has a tablet she rarely uses it. Instead, she receives all her communication through her smartphone. Online ordering, filling out applications and reading attachments can be a real challenge on a smartphone unless you are tech savvy.

No wonder she is having difficulty.

Author Rita Gunther McGrath writes in her Harvard Business Review article “The Pace of Technology Adoption is Speeding Up,” “It took 30 years for electricity and 25 years for telephones to reach 10% adoption, but less than five years for tablet devices to achieve the 10% rate. It took an additional 39 years for telephones to reach 40% penetration and another 15 before they became ubiquitous.”

Technology adoption for the young is rapid, especially if it is all they have ever known. But learning a new technology at age 70, 80 or 90 is fraught with difficulty.

Does the senior have access to a device such as a smartphone, tablet or computer? Is there internet available where the senior lives? Can the senior afford internet service?

Is the senior dealing with sensory, physical or cognitive deficiencies preventing them from easily using technology? Does the senior have someone who can guide them on downloading apps, filling out online forms or understanding new terms or commands?

It is outright ageism that we design services for the senior population without considering their capabilities and circumstances.

In the case of making an appointment for the COVID vaccine, imagine knowing that access to one of the most important things you need to prevent disease and death is predicated on knowledge and access to something you just do not have.

I can only imagine what new technology will be out there when I am 80 or 90, without children to help me.

Will I be feeling stressed and frightened for my future without it?


Categories: Elder ConcernsNumber of views: 1710

Tags: technology gap

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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