Tech addiction among older adults

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Seniors and Cell Phones
Seniors and Cell Phones – Jan 4, 2024

Though it’s often associated with young people, cell phone and screen addiction can affect people of all ages.

Though one researcher says, most people don’t realize how much of their time is spent scrolling.

“One thing that research has consistently found is that the more you use your phone, the more you underestimate how much you use your phone,” said Jay Olson, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, Missisauga. “And so if someone is using their phone 5 hours a day, they’ll say that they’re actually using it about two or 3 hours a day.”

Olson studies problematic smartphone use. But “problematic” can mean look different for each person.

“We’re looking at some of the more subjective aspects of it, how it’s influencing their life, and kind of less about the usage itself in terms of screen time,” he said.

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According to 2020 data from Statistics Canada, about 12 per cent of people 65 and older check their smartphone at least every 30 minutes,

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and more than 22 per cent said it was the first thing they do after waking up.

Between 2020 and 2022, the percentage of adults between 65 and 74 who used a smartphone to access the internet rose from 59 to 68 per cent.

Olson’s research paints a similar picture.

“What we found was across the world in basically all genders and age groups that we studied, problematic smartphone use was rising, including in these older age groups as well. And so we can predict that this will continue to be a growing problem in the future,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, smartphones and tablets were one way to stay connected during lockdowns. They’ve also been heralded as a way to prevent isolation among older adults, who report high rates of loneliness.

Winnipegger Lorraine McPhail says she uses her phone about 1-2 hours per day.

“Checking my email, checking my voicemail, checking the news, Facebook. That’s about it,” she said.

Lloyd Yee says he plays games on his tablet at night as a way to unwind.

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“My time for that is from 11 o’clock at night until 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

And Bob Lee tries to avoid phones and screens altogether.

“Games have become a big thing with the people in my peer group,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s a technology that serves a variety of purposes, and the greatest purpose is to waste time.”

Olson says there are many ways to curb smartphone addiction – like keeping the device in another room overnight, muting notifications, and changing the device’s display to grayscale.

“Adding in these little barriers, making the phone a little bit less successful or slightly harder to use seems to reduce people’s screen time and also their problematic smartphone use,” he said.

Olson added anyone can check their problematic smartphone use at

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