Usually, we can safely rely on seniors to set an inspiring example for younger folks to emulate. They unselfishly share the wisdom acquired with age to help successive generations overcome current challenges, and they model time-tested ways to resist the unhealthy seductions of modern culture. 

But not these days. Sadly, our elders are dropping the ball on an issue of vital importance to our collective future: excessive smartphone use.

“Older adults increasingly are adopting technology at rates on par with younger, tech-savvy cohorts,” according to McKnight’s Senior Living. “Now, unfortunately, they also may be adopting similar tech-related dependency issues.” 

In other words, seniors in this case aren’t the solution. They’re a big part of the problem. 

This report follows on the heels of research by AARP that shows adults older than 50 are embracing consumer technology about as fast as those ages 18-49. Back in 2012, I wrote about this distant possibility in McKnight’s, describing my aging father’s surprisingly eager pursuit of every newfangled product available. But a decade later, that novelty has clearly become a sickness.

If 80 is the new 14, and seniors have become as phone-obsessed as typical teens, we’re in for a highly distracted future, one with implications in long-term care facilities. “Senior living and care operators, as well as families, should be careful to monitor residents’ screen time,” suggested experts in the article

I knew it would come to that.

I fully expected and feared that the task of policing and preventing this scourge of senior smartphone addiction would eventually fall to long-term care staff. Somewhere right now in a windowless room at CMS headquarters, a grumpy bureaucrat is almost certainly devising ways to turn resident screen time violations into regulatory offenses, with negative Five-Star implications to match. 

It will be up to facilities to operationalize compliance with these new guidelines. You’ll obviously need to create a new Director of Smartphone Surveillance (DSS) position to take the lead in monitoring and rationing each resident’s screen time and, when necessary, locking up their devices. Like any parent dealing with a suddenly technology-deprived child, your new DSS will need to withstand tearful arguments, begging and bargaining, and have the strength to hold firm. 

“How about we try using your imagination instead?” he or she could cheerfully say, while gently snatching the smartphone from the addicted resident. “How about singing a song, reading a book or doing a puzzle? Or wouldn’t it be more fun to go outside and play with your friends?” 

If that doesn’t work, your DSS should resort to a variation of the time-honored threat honed by every harried parent who has ever taken an unruly child on a lengthy car trip. “Put that phone away, or I’m turning this wheelchair around right now!” 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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