I got a question a few years ago from someone at a panel Porter Novelli was hosting about aging consumers. We’d surrounded the room with beautiful images of older Americans of all backgrounds, in all types of settings – all appearing vibrant and happy. A woman within our target audience of 65+ said to me at the end of the discussion, “why do you have all of these pictures of young people in the room? Why don’t you have pictures of people like me, who show their age?”. It annoyed me at first and I quickly addressed her question by explaining that research tells us people don’t see themselves as old. They see themselves as far younger than they are and we need to reflect that in order to engage them. I felt satisfied that I had smartly answered her question with data on my side.  But the question has stuck with me nearly four years later.

Because in many ways, she was right.

Consider this. Right now there are about 46 million people in the United States aged 65 years or older.[1] That’s about one in every seven Americans you pass on the street each morning as you head to the office or to get your daily caffeine fix.  As communicators and marketers we certainly think about this population, about their communications preferences, about their buying power, about their needs. But I am going to wager to guess we make some assumptions about them, too. Actually, it’s not even a guess – it’s an observation based on daily interactions I have with people across generations. We frequently make generalizations about this population – especially when it comes to things like technology and healthcare.

Think of basic media. Often times we see images of older people sitting with a doctor – very much as the recipient being “talked to” by a younger, mentoring-like care provider. Images of them looking up their information on a patient portal? Not so much. Picture the ads we see, social content that goes viral, or feel-good feature stories in the weekend paper. How often do they depict a younger person showing an older adult how to use a device so they can see a picture of a grandchild, as if to say “here – come into reality Gramps – I’ll show you the way?” While some of this depiction is true, some of it feeds into incorrect myths about this population.

As part of a recent Porter Novelli presentation to the American Society on Aging’s annual Aging in America conference, we dove into PNStyles and shared some interesting findings on technology usage and trends among seniors that debunked some of the misperceptions.[2]

Video Games: A young man’s game? There is no real difference in habits around online video gaming by age. Actually, the same percentage (32%) of people both younger and older than age 61 play online games. In fact, a greater proportion of older gamers compared to younger gamers report playing video games weekly or more often (37% of 50-59 year olds compared to 43% of 60-plus say they play every day). Older woman? You are more likely to be a gamer than that man you pass on the street. About 40%

[1] https://aoa.acl.gov/Aging_Statistics/Index.aspx

[2] PN Styles Spring 2016 online sample of 6,490 adults qualified and completed the survey for a response rate of 59.2%. Study fielded March 24 to April 18, 2016.