The Internet and computers everywhere -- except for older seniors

This MarketWatch article (placed by Banker's Life Insurance, no less) caught my eye: Seniors: Overcoming Loneliness. The article encouraged seniors to visit their local senior center: "If it's too cold or difficult for you to get out, stay connected to others by phone, mail or computer. The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project surveys taken from 2006-2008 show that older generations are online now more than ever before with email being their most popular online activity."

Are seniors online today?  Well, that's sort of true.  According to the latest Pew study, ages 64-72 and ages 73+ are the only two age groups in which internet use lags the percentage of the population. To contrast: GenY (18-32) represents 26% of the population, but 30% of the total Internet use.  The two senior groups, however, each comprise 9% of the population, but represent 7% and 4% of internet use. Forty-five percent of those aged 70-75 are now online, up from 26% three years ago. And 27% of age 76+ compared to 17% three years ago.

Reverse the perspective -- most are not. Flipping the Pew Research numbers around, 55% of seniors age 70-75 and 73% of those 76+ are not online. And some of the increase in usage, of course, is derived from individuals taking their connectivity into the next group as they age.

Being online is more than an antidote to loneliness.  Let's get real. We know that the Internet can provide seniors with health information, access to groups coping with like chronic diseases, daily news, how-to instruction, ability to find products and services, address lookups, phone numbers, quick language translations, online games, elder blogs, movies, and humor, story telling, even directions to the senior centers.  And that's just for starters.

Senior housing companies are AWOL on technology. I am tired of walking through independent and assisted living facilities where residents are idle, lying down, or snoozing, where awaiting lunch is the activity of the morning. Where they sit passively while someone selects a movie to watch, a game to play, or activities to be done as a group. This being the 21st century, let's ask: Are the majority of assisted and independent living facilities installing high speed connections, implementing wireless networks, acquiring and promoting touch-screen PCs, and offering internet access subscriptions as part of their service (which they could mark up and resell for a profit)? You know they are not.

Senior centers don't help much. Senior centers everywhere list the requisite 'getting to know your computer' class to demystify the mysterious, a big clunky box that requires more knowhow than filing a tax form. But do they actively seek and promote cheaper, more usable technology for the home. perhaps even reselling it? (Let's hear about more than just the Silicon Valley Council on Aging). You know they do not.

Too difficult to use? One of the tired cliches I hear (and read on the Net) is that PCs and even MACs are too complicated for seniors who are intimidated by buttons, choices, dead end paths, unfamiliar terminology and so on.  Rubbish, as my mother would say. Vendors are offering simplified, large format, locked down, touch screen devices and services.  Check out two very new companies: Big Screen Live or PointerWare (formerly Soft Shell) -- both offering subscription-based software for seniors that hides the complexity of Windows PCs with a large format screen (or touch screen) and offers Internet, E-mail, games, photos, or shopping.

Too expensive? Give me a break. No, make that -- give them a break. Forget the desk side machines. So many sites, so many laptops under $300.  And for the senior center, ALF, independent living common areas? The HP TouchSmart -- outrageous, true, at $2000 from HP, but much less on eBay. And perhaps the Kindle-2  - see this Amazon Kindle-2 discussion) may be the 'laptop' of the future - especially for those with low vision.

Boomer IT veterans should form tech corps service businesses.  As giants like Microsoft, HP, and startups like Big Screen Live and Soft Shell know, you can be both passionate about helping seniors and do it as a business. Downsized and semi-retired baby boomer telecom, IT, and vendor veterans should view Assisted Living, CCRCs, Senior Centers, Senior villages, retirement homes, and more -- as a green field opportunity in a down economy. Still largely untapped, needing sales education and explanation, product knowledge, and implementation services.

If everyone associated with tech and with older people seized the opportunity to bring laptops, touchscreens, software, and high speed internet to them, everyone involved benefits and an economic segment gets a boost -- win-win for all.

 

Computer Literacy in "Senior Seniors"

Just one view from the flip side of the coin about learning resistance among the elderly too. I have spent a lot of time in a senior center trying to help the whole set get more computer adept with things like internal email lists and group chat, and it has been surprising to see how much some don't know, in the sense of "where is the any key?," even among those who profess to be quite adept. It is easy to mis-read that veneer of proficiency and start talking over their heads without knowing you are doing so.

I am working up some tutorials now that I see which pieces are the most often missing. But I do feel the need to calibrate expectations among Boomers and others who may wish to help the more elderly stay plugged in under their own steam.

Many of the "super senior" (75+) have lots of pride, hate that these darn machines make smart people feel dumb, want to deny that computing confers any real benefit, and find it embarassing to admit how little they learned at the time they were taught. That pride and embarassment combined can make teaching difficult.

My suggestion: Before riding in idealistically thinking "if only" this and "if only" that, the way I did when I began, be prepared for a lot of one-on-one hand-holding while you explain each step in slo-mo sequence, since they won't rush to admit what they don't get and may not know what they do not know.

Thought of the day: what about nursing homes?

So senior centers, assisted living, and nursing homes -- I am betting that many don't even think about the nursing homes and technology.

To my great amazement, today with my ombudsman hat on, I went to a nursing home that serves the poorest of the poor in my region -- no one is ever turned away.

Imagine my surprise to see construction underway of three workstation spaces in the common activities room, computers already purchased, for residents to log on and connect to the outside world. Wheelchair accessible. 

It is true that without training and tutoring, this kind of investment is wasted. But in this facility, the activities director has been there 40 years -- she deeply loves the residents and I am betting she finds a volunteer or three to help out. I'll keep myself and you posted.

 

 

 

 

information

Hi, my name is Tara. I'm looking for a way to help improve the quality of life for my residents. I have a couple that are completely immobile. They can blow through a straw sensor and that is about all. I'm looking for a way that I can some how sponsor a computer program that allows them to connect via web cam with their families. I'm not sure where to begin on this journey but i'm hopeful. Do you have any information or suggestions or contacts for information. programs anything. opinions?!!

This website has a long list of devices

http://www.makoa.org/computers.htm#input

This organization list helps with access:

http://www.atnet.org/resources/computers-resources.php

I am sure there are others -- starting with organizations/resources listed in Abledata:

http://www.abledata.com/abledata.cfm?pageid=19326

 

 

 

Computers and older people

Great article. Thank you for the links to Big Screen Live and Soft Shell, I was not aware of these products.

Ciarán Holahan
Dublin, Ireland.

Screen text maginfication product ZoomText Express

http://www.aisquared.com/zoomtextexpress

Per Doug Hacker, from the company:

"From a company called Ai Squared that has been making Screen Magnification technology for the Assistive Technology industry for years. Werre the world leader in the market and we
just released a product called "ZoomText Express"; that we believe does
wonders for seniors and aging computer users who strain to see their
computers."

Don't we always sell them short!

I completely agree with you! I think we have a tendency to always try and dumb-down (so-to-speak) the senior population and not give them a chance to adopt to technology. Stereo-typing an entire population isn't what is going to propel new business and create happier, fulfilled seniors. We need to expand our thinking and I applaud you for speaking up. I look forward to figuring out opportunities to promote these technologies not only for seniors in their homes, but for the communities and centers throughout the country. Thanks Laurie!!!

Jill Gilbert
CEO of GilbertGuide.com

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