Older adults have more tech literacy than the WSJ credits. I wish that I could love this article from the January 12 Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, grump that I am, not so much. It looks horrendous to see the 'Who's Online' Pew numbers in the chart -- 20% for Older Boomers? 13% of the 65-73 range? One pauses -- that's not right. Oh yeah, those are the percentages in those age ranges of the Internet-using population. So let's mull that over -- the 65+ population in total represents only 13% of the (entire) population in the US, so it kind of makes sense that 65-73 year olds are only 13% of the Internet-using population. So let's get the rest of the Pew Generations Online data out there for the record - 76% of older boomers (56-64) are online, 58% of those 65-73, and 30% of those 75+. Not too bad, more progress required.
The resources offered up won't get seniors online nationwide. You go to Eldercare.gov and find me the page of tech-training programs for older adults that involve teens in my (or your area) -- and no, the 800-number for the Area Agency on Aging is not going to cut it. Oats.org does offer a structured program that one can introduce into a school -- but it's for schools in New York City (also in New York, check out DorotUSA.org.) Let's add a few more for out-and-about seniors: SeniorNet.org, libraries (thousands of entries), community colleges, adult education courses at local high schools, and many local programs that can be brought into retirement communities -- too numerous to count.
Computer training and net literacy fits within the description of 'activities' in senior housing. So back to 'retirement facilities' as noted in the Journal article. Teens are great, learning to text from them is fine (and yeah, it's kinda cool). But senior housing communities, including independent living and assisted living facilities, including those with dementia residents, have a responsibility to engage residents beyond TV, Bingo, and showing them movies. If nothing exists to help residents get started with computers (virus-free, supported networks, tech-sharp activity directors, etc.) then these are simply inadequate offerings -- families and those who work with seniors in these communities should complain. Certainly if they want to engage with local high schools looking to organize volunteer programs for bringing students to help seniors with technology, that's great. Please do -- and bring in language students to have conversations with non-English-speaking residents, train volunteers to help with activities -- both mentally stimulating, creative and physically interesting. And include Saturdays and Sundays, please. And for students, I am willing to bet that they may also bring in volunteer paperwork verifying that time spent can be included as volunteer time on college or job applications as well.
And while I am on the subject of computer access and seniors, with wireless and Internet, let's add music. I was fortunate yesterday to speak with David Schofman, the founder of a music therapy technology firm (yes, those words are in the same sentence!). This Texas-based company, Coro Health, began offering a technology platform in 2009 for assessing and, through their MusicFirst™ program (priced at $9.95 per month per user), customizing music therapy programs as well as spiritual, educational, audio books and other content for senior housing residents (from a central server through Wifi) or home-based individuals (from the Internet). Providing customized music therapy tailored to individual needs is of extreme benefit for individuals with dementia -- never mind that some music actually can make everyone feel better. But that really doesn't scale well (so to speak). It's so dependent on the onsite presence of trained individuals -- or defaulted to one-tune-fits-all background music. Last year I was hopeful about a program that pre-loaded donated iPods with music, but that really doesn't really scale up to the multitudes. Other than SpectiCast (streaming Philadelphia Orchestra concerts and other content) through a set-top box, I haven't seen or 'heard' too much else that can be deployed broadly.