Older Adults Are Obsessed With These Five Tech Topics | Kanebridge News
Kanebridge News
Share Button

Older Adults Are Obsessed With These Five Tech Topics

Fitness wearables and password managers are among the hottest topics for people ages 50 and up

Thu, Apr 6, 2023 10:11amGrey Clock 5 min

The residents of a retirement community in the heart of Amish country are proving what experts on ageing have been saying for years: Older adults are as keen on new technologies as anyone else.

Willow Valley Communities, a 2,600-resident campus in Lancaster, Pa., has a tech centre staffed by volunteers. People can drop in for tech help or get their computers fixed. It also has an active computer club and an Apple products group that offer resident-taught classes.

The challenges of the pandemic accelerated tech adoption among older adults who, initially, just needed ways to communicate with far-flung loved ones. People ages 50 and older each spent an average of $912 on technology last year, up from $394 in 2019, according to the AARP.

But barriers remain as older Americans go beyond the video call. There is a lack of training programs and a concern that products aren’t always designed for an ageing populace, the organisation says.

Approximately 2,600 retirees live at Willow Valley Communities in Lancaster, Pa. PHOTO: MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

At Willow Valley, many of the residents are focused on technology that can keep them active but won’t open them up to scams or frauds.

“Older adults aren’t into tech for tech’s sake,” says Jeff Weiss, chief executive of Age of Majority, a consulting firm that helps companies market to older adults. “For them to want to use and adopt technology, there has to be a practical reason.”

During my conversations with ageing experts and Willow Valley residents, these five topics came up again and again:

Health wearables

Wearable devices for tracking health and fitness are the hottest technology among older adults, according to leaders at several aging-tech organisations and companies. The AARP says 28% of older Americans own a wearable and 77% of those people use it daily.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people ages 65 and older need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense activity, such as brisk walking, as well as strength and balance exercises.

Trish Macvaugh, a 76-year-old Willow Valley resident, began swimming competitively three years ago. She uses her Apple Watch Series 6 to log her heart rate and more particular stats, too. There’s her “swolf” score, the number of strokes taken plus the time it takes to swim a certain length, and her “VO2 max,” the maximum amount of oxygen she takes in during intense exercise.

Ms. Macvaugh, who began swimming competitively three years ago, tracks her heart rate, strokes and oxygen level on her Apple Watch Series 6. MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I can compare all of that to what I was doing a month ago, and it’s really encouraging to see how much I’m improving,” says Ms. Macvaugh, who is planning to compete in her second National Senior Games this summer.

A retired professor of English and women’s studies and mother of two, she also uses her Apple Watch to track her walking steadiness, as well as her performance when lifting weights and using the elliptical machine.

For tech advice, she turns to fellow resident Susan Culbertson, a 76-year-old retired computer-software trainer. Last fall, Ms. Culbertson created classes at Willow Valley to teach others how to use Apple products. The classes have gotten so popular, they’ve occasionally run out of seats for people in the conference room where they take place.

Using the iPhone’s Health app and tracking Apple Watch metrics—beyond just step counting—are top subjects. “People want to stay fit as long as possible,” Ms. Culbertson says.

Home assistants

Many residents at Willow Valley use voice-activated home assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio. They’re rising in popularity among older adults across the country, with one in three older adults owning one. Approximately 60% of the older adults who own a home assistant use it daily, the AARP says.

As with other age groups, older adults use home assistants largely to play music, ask questions, check weather or traffic and set alarms or timers.

Streaming services

Ms. Culbertson says that Willow Valley residents are very interested in streaming movies and shows and that many residents no longer watch network television. She recently taught a class on how to use Apple TV.

Older adults are fuelling the growth in video-streaming and subscribing to multiple services, including Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max.

They’re also combining their interest in streaming content with their interest in fitness. Older Adults Technology Services from AARP, a nonprofit that teaches tech to older adults, streams free fitness classes via Zoom. Its stretch classes have been wildly popular, says OATS Executive Director Tom Kamber.

Password protection

Al Williams, president of Willow Valley’s 845-member computer club, says password protection has been a hot topic among older people since news broke that the password manager LastPass was hacked.

Al Williams, head of Willow Valley’s computer club, advises residents to protect their accounts with strong passwords. PHOTO: MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Williams, an 83-year-old retired engineer, recently gave a presentation on choosing strong passwords and using password managers. (My colleague Nicole Nguyen says physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone when logging into an account—offer even more protection.)

A recent poll from Age of Majority found that only 37% of people ages 55 and older use a password manager.

Scam prevention

Older adults have fallen prey to all kinds of scams conducted online and by phone.

OATS from AARP offers free online classes for older adults who want to burnish their digital skills, including one later this month on how to protect your personal information online.

Some of Ms. Culbertson’s Apple classes have been so popular, they’ve run out of seats. PHOTO: MICHELLE GUSTAFSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Williams says Willow Valley residents are interested in this, too. He plans to give a “Scammers and other invasive species” presentation to teach people to recognise social engineering.

Teaching tech to a span of older adults, ranging from 55 to over 90, requires a certain skill. “The main thing we have to do,” he says, “is to talk about tech in terms of solving a problem, not as a lecture.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

Related Stories
Italy, Land of Uncollected Garbage, Combines Running With Trash Pickup
By ERIC SYLVERS 04/10/2023
Jean Arnault Has New Goals for Louis Vuitton Watches. Profit Isn’t One of Them.
By NICK KOSTOV 03/10/2023
Love Patterns? Try This Design Trick to Pull Any Room Together
By KATE MORGAN 02/10/2023
Italy, Land of Uncollected Garbage, Combines Running With Trash Pickup

At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

Wed, Oct 4, 2023 4 min

GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

Related Stories
America’s Billionaires Love Japanese Stocks. Why Don’t the Japanese?
By AKANE OTANI 25/09/2023
Levels of wealth continue to rise for Australians
Inside Apple’s Spectacular Failure to Build a Key Part for Its New iPhones
By AARON TILLEY 22/09/2023
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop