It’s Never Too Late to Learn!

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Technology. It’s such a formidable word, especially to some folks within the senior demographic. While many older adults confidently and enthusiastically embrace the changes that come with technology, some are still stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to embracing the latest gadgets and tools that help with communication, connection and everyday living.

I say this because my own mother, 84, still has a rotary phone on her wall, a microwave from the early 1980s and an old tube television. While I may not be successful in bringing her fully into the 21st century in terms of helpful inventions and technological wizardry, I hope I can inspire you to consider taking the plunge and expanding your repertoire of tech toys and helpful tools within that realm.

Research has indicated nearly one-third of Americans 65 and older lack the confidence to use electronic devices, especially when it comes to online activities. However, if those individuals wish to age in place, being technologically savvy can have some amazing benefits. Through technology you can manage finances, stay on top of your health, and essentially improve the quality of your life. Even social networking sites such as Facebook offer a viable way to reduce the loneliness and isolation that are rampant among the senior demographic. Penn State University’s research indicates that adults 65 and older are the fastest-growing age group on Facebook. However, a large percentage of seniors say they need assistance when using new electronic devices and only 26 percent of those who surf the internet feel confident in using technology to do what they need to do.

If you want to bring technology into your life, ease into it. If you have a cell phone you use only for making calls, learn how to text with it. Once you feel confident in that ability, consider transitioning to a smartphone or a tablet, both of which are easier on aging joints and eyes. If you need assistance, consult your children or grandchildren, a friend or faith community member on how to use the internet to visit Facebook, do your banking, or access a doctor’s patient portal.

Using advanced technologies is a great way to use email, manage your finances, play some games, watch movies, listen to music, share photos with family and friends, do some shopping, enjoy a video chat with someone special or even write letters. Digital literacy training can give you the confidence and skills required to access information and services online. Yes, you may argue that you spent most of your life without the need for such devices as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer, but they are used in nearly every facet of life now; the technology can be of great benefit to you as you advance in age, especially if you want to live independently.

You don’t have to fully immerse yourself right away. With some hands-on demonstrations of how something works, you can often overcome that initial fear. Sit down with a family member or friend and have them help you set up a new device while discussing its key functions and features, which should help eliminate some of the mystery behind it. Create opportunities to enjoy the benefits of technology by making it fun. Have someone help you connect with a long-lost friend or relative and begin correspondence with that person. Play a current iPad game with a grandchild. Positive experiences with technology will encourage continued use and additional learning opportunities.

It is important, however, to take into consideration internet safety. Sadly, older adults are at greater risk than their younger counterparts for being targets of fraud. Never reveal passwords or other types of personal information online; stay current with security software and keep pace with current schemes and scams. This is crucial if you’re a caregiver for another adult in your home. As long as you have the right support and help from loved ones, you can overcome that fear of technology and reap its many fabulous benefits.

There are numerous organizations that offer training programs specifically for seniors to understand these technologies. As many workshops are held in groups, it is far less intimidating than one-on-one coaching. AARP, for example, offers regular webinars covering topics such as social media, online safety, tablets and phones and more; non-profit organizations such as SeniorNet and OATS, or Older Adults Technology Services, provide computer and internet classes to older adults, with multiple learning centers across the country. Your local libraries or senior centers may also conduct technology classes for seniors.

Once you learn how to navigate the online world, you may be surprised to find yourself active and engaged on a regular basis. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it! ■

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