Despite having nine children, 36 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren, Louise Eddy put away her cell phone at some point and still can’t find it.
All in all, not a huge loss for the Utah native. She was never happy with the configuration of the phone and struggled to use it. In addition, she has a grandmother instead.
For more than a year, Eddy has used a mobile tablet from the Hopkins-based company of the same name so she can surf the Internet and share photos with family and friends. The design of the tablet is especially for the elderly – including a left-to-right swipe feature, for touch screen precision, large and colorful icons and built-in 4G wireless connection – Eddie is very attached to it, and therefore, less likely. Losing him.
Eddy is one of millions of seniors across the country who are spending their money on new technology. In the year By 2030, American adults age 50 and older are expected to spend $120 billion on technology, according to AARP.
Seniors and technology aren’t exactly synonymous, but the growing comfort level among adults using technology is translating to tech companies, including those in Minnesota. GrandPad Inc. is one of several major leaders in consumer technology for older adults.
Eddie’s daughter, Helen, works at the company and introduces the tablet, which changes the 85-year-old’s life. Previously, she only used her home computer for email and shopping on Amazon, but now she works with her grandfather to read the news, listen to music, make phone calls and share videos with her family.
“It’s amazing and it’s so easy to do,” she said, “because I’m not good at technology.”
Minnesota in the middle
AARP recently reported that 71% of adults age 50 and older made a technology purchase last year, and 78% frequently use technology to connect with others. Meanwhile, the average annual spending on technology by older adults increased 11 percent to $912 in 2022, a 130 percent increase from 2019.
But in Minnesota, seniors spend an average of just $280 on tech devices, according to Seniors, an online senior living advice and directory. With conservative spending — and with about 10% of seniors not owning a computer and 17% without Internet access — Minnesota falls in the middle when it comes to states with the most digitally-savvy seniors, Senior said. Minnesota ranks 24th, but ranks higher than neighboring states like Wisconsin (40th) and North Dakota (49th).
Senior, which measures how many seniors work remotely and use telehealth, assumes that there are more technology services for seniors living on the coasts, so why are the top two places in the rankings—Washington, D.C. and California?
Nationally, however, the pandemic has had a significant impact on technology spending, as it forces seniors to adapt to new technology, said Indra Venkat, senior vice president of research at AARP.
“Tools and devices like smartphones have come out of necessity,” she says. “In 2021, staying home, it becomes more of a habit.”
Venkat cited technologies like smart-home for safety and security systems as one of the big growth areas as it helps the elderly maintain their independence.
Health and recreation
CEO Scott Lien and his son Isaac founded Grandpad in 2011. Since its launch, more than 1.6 million people in 120 countries—mostly in the US, Ireland and the UK—have used the tools.
GrandPad sells the tablets directly to consumers but also to healthcare providers as a telehealth platform and connected device system for remote care, Lien said. The company’s Daily Connect system includes a wearable device that tracks sleep and steps, measures body weight and tracks blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and respiration.
The business, which now has over 170 employees, has seen annual growth of more than 40% in Lyon over the past three years. And part of that technological advancement for seniors comes from those who care for the elderly. AARP reports that more than 50% of those surveyed are interested in using technology to help with their caregiving needs.
LifeSpark, a St. Louis Park senior care provider, is investigating technology to detect falls in residents at their center. To do that, he created a performance tracking dashboard for residents’ physical therapy sessions. It’s also creating an app that invites family members to talk to caregivers about their seniors’ life plans, said Peter Lutz, the company’s recently appointed chief information officer.
LifeSpark is partnering with a California video technology company to test fall protection systems at a few centers in Minnesota, Lutz said. The technology connects to existing cameras to alert residents of falls and reduce false positive fall rates.
Beyond tablets and connected gear, Twin Cities companies like MindVue and Rem5 have created virtual reality headsets for seniors to wear.
MindVue’s virtual content is designed for those 55 and older after many conversations with seniors and experts, said founder Chris Allen. Some of the content allows family and caregivers to see the world through a senior’s perspective, and families who own VR headsets can join the experience remotely.
In its first three years, the company worked with 30 senior communities in Minnesota with a total of 360 seniors, Allen said. The company is looking for investors to keep it going.
“For seniors who can’t enjoy going out like they used to, it’s about regaining their innocence or getting back in social relationships with family,” Allen said.
Despite the increasing adoption of technology by older people, according to AARP, 68% of older adults still do not trust the design of new technology considering their age, resulting in a lack of confidence in the refusal to use devices. It’s a big barrier to technology adoption in that demographic.
According to Venkat, vision and hearing loss are among the factors that lead to hesitation.
Since 2017, retired Twin Cities Information Technology Manager Don Frederickson has maintained a Senior Tech Club website and community classes on the use of smartphones and tablets. He created the site after seeing his peers struggling with technology.
Expanded to in-person classes for top organizations and community learning groups, and during the pandemic, online classes. It provides its services for free.
Lately, Frederickson has been working with the Minneapolis charity Gifts for Seniors to raise money to buy tablets for socially isolated seniors who can’t afford such devices or internet access.
“I want to move away from helping people figure out how to FaceTime on an iPhone, and instead focus on approaches that help people stay more strategically connected, stay connected, and remain lifelong learners,” he said.