Tech, Spirituality, and Older Adults

Until recently, technology and older adults were unlikely friends. Now I’m not surprised when a 96-year-old scrolls through their tablet to show me their latest great-grandchild, or asks their smart tech device to play some music. For many, technology has become a vital link to their faith community. On a daily basis, hearing aids, medication reminders, fall detectors, robotic pets, as well as devices used for communication and entertainment have older adults increasingly engaged in the world of technology.

This is sparking intriguing questions for spiritual care providers and researchers in spirituality and aging around the world. How might the use of technology enhance pastoral care? Can virtual reality facilitate meaningful experiences? Can robots provide emotional support? How is tech enabling both independence and connections?

Beate Stellar, a spiritual care provider in aged care in Australia, pioneered the use of Skype to connect residents with special events and distant family, long before the pandemic made virtual connection commonplace. Cosmin Munteanu, the Schlegel-UW RIA Research Chair in Technology, is working on co-creating meaningful experiences in virtual reality with older adults to share with family and friends. Tracy Trothen, professor of ethics at Queen’s University, is evaluating the benefits and risks of intelligent assistive technology (chat bots, physical bots and pet bots) related to meeting spiritual needs among older adults. This June, these three will come together at Grebel to form a panel discussing technology, spirituality and aging at the International Conference on Ageing & Spirituality—just one of many plenary sessions to stimulate worldwide conversation about the conference theme of Challenges and Choices: Spirituality and Dignity in Later Life.