Seniors+Museums+Digital Technology


Before starting my internship in senior center, I had zero information about senior citizens. While I was working with seniors and preparing for my museum facilitation program, I found out that there are not many researches or programs in museum focusing on senior citizens.  Since life expectancy is increasing globally, understanding seniors and their characteristics would prepare working with seniors as future museum practitioners.

Who Are Senior Citizens?

There is no single definition to define senior citizens and their ages. According to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) defines “older adults” to be those over 50 years old. If he or she joins their mailing list, they send all senior discount information once he or she passes their 50 years old birthday. While the United States Census Bureau classifies Americans age 65 and over into “older population” category. Many studies accounts for a wide variety of definitions, but generally individual between 55 and 75 years old considers as a senior.


According to the U.S Census Bureau’s Current Population Reports, “65+ in the United States: 2010,”

  • The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected more than double from 46 million over 98 million by 2060.
  • By 2056, their population will be larger than the number of those age 18 and younger.
  • The older population has become more racially and ethnically diverse.
  • Older adults are working longer.
  • Internet usage among the older population was up 31 percent points from a decade prior.

More information with graphs can be found in this link:

Aging-related Changes

The aging process involves changes in behavior, physical, emotional and cognitive condition of a person.

Behavior Changes

Physical Changes

  • Convey more positive emotions overall
  • Higher Satisfaction with family, friends, and life in general
  • Resistance to change
  • Senior committed crime rate declines
  • Loss of visual acuity
  • Hearing loss
  • Declining sensitivity to taste, smell, and pain
  • Decreasing muscle strength and stamina
  • Decreasing cardiac output
  • Weakening immune system

Emotional Changes

Cognitive Changes

  • More anxiety
  • Less depression and hostility if health is maintained
  • Frustration with physical changes
  • More fear of injury or illness
  • Decrease long-term memory
  • Gain in vocabulary and accumulated knowledge
  • Deficit in problem solving
  • Decrease overall intellectual functioning
  • Decline in dual-task performance


Why Seniors In Museums? 

The population aged 65 and over continues to grow more rapidly than population under 65. Senior citizens are interested in leisure-time activities and can afford both time and money. They may have limited understanding of art, but want to be educated about art and have the time to enjoy viewing art. Currently, museums are not well designed for senior citizens because they require too much walking and have very few amenities (such as bathrooms, benches, food and beverage shops).

Examples of Senior Programs in Museums

  1. MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York)- Prime Time
  • Design for adults age 65 and over
  • Free to New York City residents
  • Each month has multiple programs (including museum tour and hands-on activity)
  • Older adults can be creative, learn about modern and contemporary art, and connect with others


More information can be found in this link:

2. Whitney Museum of American Art- Senior Program

The Whitney Museum of American Art collaborates with local senior centers to provide various programs. When the Whitney’s Open Access Days, the museum is closed to the public and provides programs for participating senior centers. On that day, the museum offers Assisted Listening Devices, seating in the galleries, and complimentary refreshments. Additionally, the Whiney offers an accessible hands-on art making activity to seniors, and Slide Talks program that museum educators visit the senior center and homes to talk about Whitney-related topics.

More information can be found in this link:

Seniors and Digital Technology

According to the Paw Research Center Report, seniors are moving towards more digitally connected lives. Almost 67% of seniors are connected to online today. Although, they are not confident using electronic devices (Look chart below). Seniors prefer to learn about digital technology one-on-one education, but there are not many programs available for seniors to learn about electronic devices.

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 8.41.57 AM

Example of Digital Interactive in Museums

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Cooper Hewitt Museum is very digital interactive museum. Once visitors pay the admission, they will get the digital pen. The digital pen is used for drawing tool on interactive tables as well for saving artworks you are interested in. Here is the video how the digital pen works:

Cooper Hewitt Museum’s digital pen and interactive tables are not specifically designed for seniors, but I think this would be a great example to introduce museums’ digital interactive to seniors because the table itself is huge with large text and fun program, which seniors can read the text information and find interesting while they draw their own design. Additionally, the digital pen is simple, easy, and light – seniors can easily carry around the museum and use it easily.

More Information

While I was researching digital interactive and museum programs for seniors, I found out interesting information of creating senior-friendly website. The guidelines for senior friendly website are suggested by the National Institute of Aging. If any of you need to create a website or digital information for seniors in the future, hope this information may help you. Here is the link:…s/od/ocpl/agingchecklist.htm


8 thoughts on “Seniors+Museums+Digital Technology

  1. custerk01

    It is becoming more and more apparent to me after having looked at many different audience groups that although museums have done and are doing wonderful things for the audiences they DO serve, there is SO much room for improvement! Seniors are one of these groups that although making up a substantial percentage of the population, they are under-represented in museum programming. This is unfortunate because seniors have arguably the most leisure time of most audiences! It was exciting to see your highlights on MOMA and Whitney’s programs for this group, and the potential application of the Cooper-Hewitt technology as a means of bridging this generation gap.


  2. joyiap

    Seniors are a prime example of lifelong learners. They enjoy museums and learning so museums should offer programming and interactives that they can use. I loved hearing that you went to Cooper Hewitt and were able to actually see what interactives they have available. I hope more museums consider this audience from now on. Thank you for this post!


  3. museumpeople

    Thanks for your thoughtful insights about seniors as a museum audience. Of course they are actually the base audience for many parks and museums and as you point out, we should be doing more for and with them.


  4. christinashepard

    I agree with all of your information! I understand a lot about what you mean about how museums should focus more on the senior audience because of my internship at a senior center as well. Seniors truly want to learn about complicated subjects, particularly subjects that they are not very familiar with. It is extremely important to remember how creative seniors can be and to encourage this creativity.


  5. Beckett Adelman

    I’m sad I missed your presentation in class! This is an excellent introduction to issues seniors face in museums and provides some good solutions museums have put in place. I find it really interesting that so many museums don’t pay much attention to the needs of seniors, especially considering that seniors are typically the biggest and most active part of museums’ member bases. When I interviewed someone at Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa this summer for our practitioner interviews, he said that the museum has trouble gaining members in younger age groups but have no problem getting and keeping members who are seniors. That really makes me wonder why they don’t cater programs to older people as an audience.


  6. lawina2013

    Seniors are the ideal example of lifelong learners. Love the examples you included in your post at MoMa and the Whitney Museum. I find myself thinking about the insights this audience could bring to art museums and how they experiences could enhance programming. Thank you for sharing your research.


  7. griffin03

    Seniors are so often the bulk of museum visitors during “off-hours”/during the week. Like others have mentioned, they have much more leisure time than the rest of us and that presents such wonderful opportunities for museum educators to really explore programming possibilities and delve deep into certain topics with the regulars.


  8. mawelker

    I love the Cooper-Hewitt Museum example. It’s a very easy way to introduce technology to this population. I’m sure we’ve all had to help out a relative or co-worker with some new technology. Even what we think is simple and intuitive, it isn’t that way for people who didn’t grow up with it. The pens seem straightforward and that they add to the experience.



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