Emerging technology helps older adults find their ‘voice’

By Lauren J Mapp

Stereotypes about older adults make it seem like they’re reluctant to adopt new forms of technology, but in reality, many seniors just want devices and apps that are designed with them in mind.

“I love Silicon Valley, I love technology, but it’s mostly 20- and 30- and 40-year-olds building things for 20- and 30- and 40-year-olds,” said Derek Holt, K4Connect president and chief operating officer. “And then we’re surprised and, frankly, often blame seniors for not liking it.”

K4Connect is a company based in North Carolina that focuses on improving technology in senior living communities. Part of the newest wave of technology it supports, which is quickly being adopted by seniors, are voice-controlled products that work to combat feelings of loneliness, Holt said.

A 2019 technology survey from AARP found that one in seven people over 50 own a home assistant or smart speaker product like Microsoft Cortana, Apple HomePod, Google Home or one of Amazon’s suite of Echo products.

“People are really interested in finding new ways to entertain, to find answers to connect with people and to help with their everyday life,” said Barbara Smith, a San Diego Oasis instructor who teaches classes for seniors on using voice tech like Amazon Alexa.

It can reduce feelings of social isolation because people can keep in contact with friends and family without being held back by small cellphone keypads that can be difficult to use for those with dexterity issues. In senior living facilities, voice technology allows residents to find out about daily activities and what foods will be served that day.

Research from a Front Porch senior living residence in Carlsbad found that 71 percent of participants felt more connected to their community when they used voice technology, said Kari Olson, president of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing.

“We need different ways for people to engage in a digital world beyond a keyboard or beyond a smartphone, and voice is that,” Olson said. “The older adult population has actually been comfortable using their voice to control technology.”

Read the full piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune!