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Patricia Grace
founder & CEO
Aging with Grace

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Social networking making inroads with seniors

The mHealth community, despite its obvious love of at-home monitoring for those with chronic conditions, is missing a major opportunity to create apps for seniors, according to Eric Dishman, who complained about the problem at length to Forbes magazine in a recent interview.

"No one is building apps for seniors," Dishman said. "Look at the number of seniors and disposable income. We don't like to think about getting old." He added that such trends could very soon translate into a generation of older Americans hungry for mobile apps, software, devices to keep them from feeling old.

Additional trends, according to Dishman and some other experts, included:

Social networking making inroads with seniors: Once considered too complicated for seniors, social networks are evolving quickly into micro-networks, or bounded communities that seniors are learning to navigate, according to Dishman. Combining it with easy-to-use tablet technology, he said, is appealing more and more to senior consumers.
"Your mom can wake up with a simple-to-use touch tablet, look at the screen to check the weather; the device asks how she's doing, reminds her to take medication," Dishman said. "A caregiver or nurse is alerted to needs, since they're on the social network."

Michelle Amodio, in a blog post for TechZone360, agreed, pointing to a Pew Research Center study showing that social network use is growing fast among seniors. "Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users," Mary Madden, senior research specialist and author of the report, told Amodio. "E-mail is still the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, but many older users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications."

Cost playing a major role: Price, more than ease-of-use or utility, may be the final factor in whether seniors buy and use smartphone or tablet apps, according to a Clinton News blog post.

"Many seniors have avoided smartphones because of the cost of their monthly plans," Maria Smith, who works in Mississippi State University's Computer Applications and Services department, said. "Smartphones, which include iPhones and Androids, require a data plan that can cost $50 to $75 per month depending on the options and the carrier. Many budget-conscience seniors have opted to stay with the lower-priced cell phones for calling and text messaging."

However, she noted, the screen-size of smartphones and tablets is a definite plus for the elderly, and so may yet convince seniors to get on board.

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