Senior male talking on smartphone while seated at table. Laptop is on table in front of him.
(Credit: Paul Sutherland / Getty Images)

Older adults living in long-term care facilities and at home now have access to a range of “smart” services, from smart watches to smart toilets. But surprisingly, not every senior’s cell phone is “smart,” new data show.

Although the number of older adults with smartphones still is quite high, at 76%, 17% of seniors have a cell phone that lacks apps and web-browsing capabilities, according to the latest Pew Research Center data on tech adoption trends, which was released last month.

That situation contrasts with younger age groups, who have more or less switched exclusively to the “smart” cellphone variety, the data showed.

Older adults’ phone adoption, however, is growing much faster than younger age groups at the moment. Although smartphone use has gone down by 8% among the age 18-29 cohort since the pandemic, smartphone use has gone up fairly dramatically among seniors during that same time period. 

Smartphone “dependency,” defined as using phones for the majority of internet services, has more than doubled for older adults between 2016, and 2023, increasing up to 16%. That figure still is lower overall compared with the under-29 age group, but if trends continue, seniors could be the most phone-dependent group within a few years.

Although the Pew survey doesn’t mention this, the trends make sense in the context of apps designed for older adults and health routines, from telehealth services to fitness and wellness monitoring. 

In fact, seniors’ smartphone usage is growing so quickly that some experts believe it could be a problem, in that it could lead to more sedentary lifestyles and/or poor sleep quality, the McKnight’s Tech Daily reported recently.

The Pew study includes information on online and social media use as well. A majority of older adults continue to use Facebook and YouTube, and now even 10% of them are using TikTok. The increase of seniors among all social media platforms has given rise to the phenomenon of “granfluencers.”