Seniors and Technology… When Cultures Clash

By Tom Mathei


If Baby Boomers attempted to catalog all the technological advances that have occurred during their lifetimes, it might take another lifetime, and they would never catch up. In fact, technology in many areas has grown so rapidly, and dramatically that it has literally overcome our ability to catch up. Seniors that were here before television and jet planes are now using technology never dreamed of in their youth. Technological advances, such as “point and click” features, have given us easy access to other technologies that can save a life, but require caution in their use.

In an article written by Doctor Robert Sheeler, the Medical Editor for the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, he cautions those with pacemakers to “avoid certain sources of electromagnetic interference”. My initial reaction was, ok, I know all about this subject. If you have a pacemaker you just have to stay away from microwave ovens. Wow, was I wrong on that one! In fact, Dr. Sheeler states, “Devices that are unlikely to interfere with your pacemaker include microwave ovens, televisions and remote controls, radios, toasters, electric blankets, electric shavers, and electric drills.”

Apparently, everything I assumed I knew about the risks, or dangers posed for those with pacemakers was wrong. As I read the article I kept thinking about my Mom’s pacemaker. I was my Mom’s personal care assistant before she passed away a few years ago. I monitored her medicine, did light housekeeping, assisted her with living as independently as possible. I wasn’t a professional in-home healthcare provider, but I accepted the responsibility of one. By doing so I may have exposed my mom to many hidden dangers, as described by Doctor Sheeler.

Cultures clash as seniors willingly accept some of the newest tech toys and tools without knowing how they might impact their health. So if the microwave oven is not a threat to those using a pacemaker, what is? To my shock and surprise the article advised users to take precautions when using a cell phone! If the Holy Grail of modern society, the cell phone, actually does present a risk to those that use a pacemaker, what other risks are out there? Dr. Sheel suggests users take precautions to prevent possible life threatening electromagnetic interference with their pacemakers:

  • “Cell phones — When your cell phone is on, keep it at least 6 inches away from your pacemaker. When talking, use the ear opposite your implantation site.
  • Certain tests and procedures — Before any test or procedure, tell your health care provider that you have a pacemaker. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are generally not recommended for those with pacemakers, although there are exceptions. Caution also is warranted with radiation therapy, shock wave lithotripsy, surgical procedures and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
  • Store anti-theft and airport metal detectors — It’s unlikely that these would interfere with pacemaker function if you walk through them at a normal pace. Avoid lingering around them or leaning on them. A pacemaker could set off a security alarm. If security personnel want to check you with a hand-held metal detector, ask for an alternative form of search. To avoid potential problems, obtain an ID card from your doctor stating that you have a pacemaker.
  • Power-generating equipment — Industrial settings such as those with welding equipment, generators or high-voltage transformers can interfere with pacemakers. Your doctor can arrange a test in your workplace to determine if it affects your pacemaker.”


Knowledge is power. In the case of technology vs. seniors, knowledge can also be a lifesaver.