Seniors Online, Connected

America’s seniors may be late to the game, but are now finding their way online in significant numbers, according to the Pew Research Internet Project’s latest findings. The data also points to the fact that tech adoption varies within the senior population, with younger, more educated and affluent seniors using internet and at-home broadband at “rates approaching—or even exceeding—the general population.”
The study shows that  six in ten seniors go online, and just under half are broadband adopters. Once online, seniors make the internet a part of their daily routine. Many older adults that use social networking sites like Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. Interestingly, those that socialize online are more likely to regularly socialize with friends offline as well, in person, or over the telephone.

In which I get my mom hooked up.

I wake up at four in the morning worried about my mother. She lives only 5 miles and 20 minutes away but I know she’s alone (by choice) and maybe lonely. When I voice my concerns, she assures me she wasn’t lonely, she was asleep, and I don’t need to worry about her as she “has gotten used to” living alone. She prefers to age at home, even if it means living a certain level of isolation. I wish I could see her. Today. Right now. Have breakfast with her (well, I’d wait until she was up.)

If only there was some sort of technology that would make it easy to look at the person to whom you were talking. It would be great if you could talk on a television-like device like they did in old sci-fi movies. Oh, right.

My 83 year old mother has Skyped.  She’s watched the videos I’ve posted of her grandchildren on YouTube. We’ve talked about getting broadband into her home to make it easier for her to connect with us and with her family in Europe. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you the process of getting my mom online.

First step: determine need and level of tech comfort.

The extent of my mother’s ownership of technology begins and ends with her cell phone (not even a smartphone.) She has used my laptop to Skype, so she’s comfortable with and enjoys that application. So in determining the best hardware to purchase, we have to look at what she will be utilizing and how. Let’s face it—she’s not creating spreadsheets and newsletters.

Family photos and videos
With family scattered all over the world, photo and video sharing is one way we can all catch up. Full screen, high resolution images make it possible for her to see without her glasses. Headphones or amplified speakers will make sounds easier to hear.

Video calling   
Like the aforementioned Skype, video communication would get a lot of use here. I would much rather see her when speaking to her. And since she’s not getting on a plane to her homeland anytime soon, it’s great when technology affords her the ability to see and speak with her 78-year-old baby brother.

E-books
She loves to read, but we are exhausting all the large-print titles in the library. An e-book reader, where font size can be increased to reading comfort, would open a whole world of reading that she would otherwise find impossible. And no more late fees!

Internet access
I’m not sure about how important this is. She’s used to getting her news and weather from television. It would be interesting to see if those habits would change if she had access to information online.

Social networking
Facebook, maybe. Twitter, no. Pew found that 46 percent of those 65 and older use social networking sites, although just 27 percent of internet users over 80 access social networking sites. Many senior websites including AARP have their own online communities, however, I think my mother would be most interested in socializing with family and friends rather than joining forums, but I might be wrong.

Senior caregivers, this is where I’m starting. I know there are stand-alone computers made especially for seniors, where the keyboard buttons are big and the set-up and operation is easy and stress-free. I’m going to start my research there and see what they have to offer. Next week I will let you know if a desktop model like Telikin or portable tablet like Claris Companion fits the bill for this family.

If you have any suggestions for hardware, software, or other technology for seniors, or want to share stories of getting your senior online, please leave them in the comments.

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