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How to help older adults use emojis

Looking to move into the modern age of communication and speak smoothly with relatives?

<p>Communication has evolved over time and through the use of new forms of technology. [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

Communication has evolved over time and through the use of new forms of technology. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • According to data from 2021, 92 percent of the world’s online population use emojis


Emojis — the little images that people can tack on to messages sent online or through smartphones in the message bar — could be used to reduce loneliness and combat ageism for older people.

A new study has revealed that older adults are uncertain as to how frequently they should use emojis or how they are interpreted by younger adults, despite understanding their meaning.

Researchers found older adults understand their meanings but lack the confidence to incorporate them into their digital interactions.

Associate Professor Isabelle Boutet, lead author of the intergenerational study on emoji use, which included adults over 60 and captured generation-related differences, measured several key factors, such as the frequency and diversity of emoji use, along with ease of interpretation.

“We found that older users are less likely to use emojis, use fewer emojis and feel less comfortable in their ability to interpret emojis,” she said.

“Our results, together with those of other studies, suggest that reduced accuracy in emoji interpretation does not drive these age-related effects.”

She said that the surprised emoji — often represented as a yellow smiley face with an open mouth — was the most difficult for older adults to interpret, followed by the standard smiling face emoji.

Based on age and emoji data, researchers said older adults were less likely to engage in digital forms of communication that involved emojis.

“This pattern of results leads us to conclude that older users have the motivation and ability to utilise emojis, but they lack the confidence and general technology expertise needed to adapt to this mode of communication,” Boutet, from the University of Ottawa School of Psychology, said.

She added that it is important to promote the use of emojis for older adults because of their communicative function and ability to facilitate intergenerational interactions, reduce loneliness and help users of all ages fulfil their social and emotional goals.

“Software developers could consider modifying existing emoji menus to facilitate their use across generations by, for example, making unambiguous emojis which older users are able to interpret more easily accessible,” she said.

“Training interventions should also be incorporated to existing community-based programs to help older users to incorporate emojis in their online interactions.”


Several online platforms offer easy guides for older Australians to learn about common emojis and what they mean in a digital setting, such as:


Additionally, public libraries often host classes on digital literacy and tech education, which you can find through the Australian Libraries Gateway to be directed to your local facility website and discover what’s on.

To learn more about protecting yourself online and safe computer use, please visit the government’s BeConnected program to stay vigilant and protected.


Want to know more about navigating the tech space in later life? Let the team at Talking Aged Care know and subscribe to the newsletter for more information, news and industry updates.


Related content:

A guide to food delivery apps for seniors

How to use video calls to stay connected

Being wary of scams and sharing your personal information

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