Envejecimiento · 11 May 2021

Technology and digital leisure for older people

The pandemic has shown that occupying leisure time is not trivial. Filling time, a priori, would not seem to be a social urgency, until it becomes clear how its use correlates with variables such as the presence of depression, sadness, anguish and other symptoms of a bad life in the elderly.

Therefore, it is necessary to assume that leisure is a strategic issue, if we are talking about older adults. It is a matter of providing older adults with creative and enriching leisure, which is conducive to active ageing.

There are four pillars of active ageing: health, security, participation and lifelong learning. To be sustainable, these four pillars must go hand in hand with intergenerationality, so that we avoid ghettos in the digital world as well and maintain relationships with younger people.

This means that any approach to digital leisure can and should be guided by the principles that:

  • Technology improves well-being and promotes health, physical maintenance, the "mens sana in corpore sano" approach.

  • Safety is essential: providing peace of mind, eliminating anxieties, building trust in the environment and overcoming barriers.

  • Participation is important, making interaction and the avoidance of passivity a mantra for being in society, strengthening social bonds, feeling that one contributes (which favours self-perception, feeling younger, less afraid, more confident and daring), combating loneliness and making the individual feel that they live in the company of others, of many others. Like and not like.

  • Lifelong learning is positive in that it keeps a person's brain functioning, equips us to stay healthy and remain competent and engaged in society. It therefore empowers the older person to reinforce the above pillars. The cultural and learning opportunities (having the opportunity to learn new things) provided by today's technologies create opportunities to improve the quality of life that are unique in history.

What about the digital gap?

According to INE, as age increases, Internet use decreases for both men and women, with the lowest percentage in the 65-74 age group (70.5% for men and 68.9% for women).

Therefore, although a reduction in the digital divide is happily taking place, it still exists between users and non-users, which can be attributed to a number of factors: 

  • Lack of infrastructure (particularly in rural areas where many older adults live).

  • Lack of computer literacy and skills needed to use the technologies.

  • Lack of interest - almost always due to lack of knowledge - in what the information society has to offer.

Specific policies for digital inclusion among different social classes continue to be necessary, as it is clear that the higher the social and cultural level, the higher the technology use habits.

Even so, the digital progress of the elderly has been evident:

  1. On the one hand, they become older, people who are already used to using the Internet in their fifties or so.

  2. The digital infrastructure has improved with networks, hardware and software that are more widespread, accessible and easier to use.

  3. It is obvious that COVID 19 has accelerated digitalisation in general and among the elderly in particular: to make video calls, to fill time at home.

  4. The so-called "gender digital divide" is also beginning to narrow, as women are reportedly taking up digital use at a slightly faster rate than men. 

  5. This greater use of technology by older people has also been reflected in mobile phones. In 2009, the difference between the age groups with the highest usage and the oldest was 33 percentage points; in 2020, and with most of the responses to the survey conducted in the middle of the pandemic, the gap has been reduced to five points, i.e. practically non-existent.

The analysis of the uses of technologies has led me to argue for some time that the tools to be used in the digital leisure of older people are, or should be, in the following order:

  1. Television. At this stage of their lives, many older people find that there are often fictitious ("I can't learn any more") or laziness-based ("learning at this stage, phew") barriers to using digital technologies. However, they know the TV remote control and this "not so dumb box" can be the ideal vehicle for the entertainment of older people. I am referring to "other uses of television", not conventional television viewing, and with cognitive stimulation channels or the use of television as a "projector for live or delayed activities".

  2. The computer.

  3. Tablets. It is known that Apple was surprised to see how the tablet managed to position itself better than expected among older people. The older adult has an ally in the tablet because of its size and usability. Sometimes they may find it difficult to read the small texts on the mobile screen or they may simply find it difficult to operate such a small keyboard.

  4. The smartphone. For older people, it will sometimes be necessary to make it more usable. 

  5. Smartphone and tablet apps. Benefits of using mobile "Apps" for seniors.

When analysing the types of activities carried out on the Internet by the elderly, it can be seen that in both men and women the activities most frequently carried out are: 

  • Using instant messaging.

  • Telephoning and chatting.

  • Making video calls over the Internet

  • Searching for information on goods and services.

  • Receiving or sending e-mails.

  • Reading news, newspapers or current affairs magazines online.

New technologies are also a great alternative for taking care of other aspects of daily life and even for exercising, but this potential has not yet been realised among the elderly. There is still a need for an exercise in digital literacy that must be promoted both by public administrations (for its obvious positive effect on reducing healthcare costs, among other things) and by private companies interested in marketing their products and services.


Some of the main uses I see for technologies to improve the lives of the elderly are:

  • Communicative use: promotion of all those technologies and/or applications that allow communication with their loved ones. Contact with the family is essential for the elderly as it improves their emotional health and prevents social isolation. New technologies facilitate this connection through numerous tools and applications such as telephones, video calls, etc. Also social networks. The use of Facebook and Pinterest by older people is very interesting.

  • The use of information. The consumption of digital content by older people with subscriptions to all kinds of media is very striking.

  • Cultural use. Audiobooks, consultation of film recommendations, documentaries, music, digital cultural magazines, online radio, free virtual visits to museums and exhibitions, television platforms, YouTube, video games, online masses, etc.

  • Use for physical and mental activity without leaving home, through online training, guided classes, memory exercises, etc. 

  •  Use for pure entertainment, such as digital TV platforms, for example.

Under the framework of: Programa Operativo Cooperación Transfronteriza España-Portugal
Sponsors: Fundación General de la Universidad de Salamanca Fundación del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Direção Geral da Saúde - Portugal Universidad del Algarve - Portugal