Training For Older Adults

Training For Older Adults

Many older adults still don’t know how to use a computer or smartphone. Classes just for them can open up a social life many had given up on.

Older adults enjoy using social technology such as email and Facebook, according to a recent Michigan State University study. The research also found that the use of such online social networks were predictive of better self-assessed health, less depression and less chronic illness, according to study lead William Chopik. Of the 591 participants whose average age was 68, more than 95% reported being “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with technology.

“Older adults think the benefits of social technology greatly outweigh the costs and challenges of technology,” said Chopik, assistant professor of psychology. “And the use of this technology could benefit their mental and physical health over time.”


“Despite the attention that the digital divide has garnered in recent years, a large proportion of older adults use technology to maintain their social networks and make their lives easier,” Chopik said. “In fact, there may be portions of the older population that use technology as often as younger adults.”


However, nearly a third of adults nationally who are 65 and over report never having used the internet according to the Pew Research Center, and half don’t have access at home. Local libraries are a free source of computer access for many older adults. But what is being done about computer literacy among seniors?


Training for Older Adults


OATS: A New York City-based nonprofit called Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS, has been educating seniors, whose average age is 74, since 2004. “In 14 years, I have not been able to identify a single person that has not learned the technology,” says Tom Kamber, founder and executive director of OATS.


Cindy Riley, 70, had a lot of hesitation around the classes. “I had a fear that if I touched a button it would mess up another button,” she says. But just a few years later she is engaged with a wide social circle via computer and cellphone. Robert O’Neill is another student who retired after 40 years in the financial services industry. “I had no computer skills,” he admits. But now “I am learning basic technology and looking at aging in a more enlightening and positive attitude.”


AARP TEK: AARP trains more than 30,000 older adults across the U.S. via its TEK (technology, education, knowledge) classes. The most basic level introduces searching the internet, taking and sharing photos and downloading apps. Students can continue to the next level to learn everything from voice dictation to photo editing.


“We eliminate the fear of the device,” says AARP tech trainer Janae Jaco. “They learn they can’t break it.” She recalls one student who “was practically in tears that she can now watch her grandkids grow up.” Another participant felt empowered to use the computer for research on a medication she was prescribed.


“I hear over and over again how it opened up a relationship with kids and grandkids,” Jaco says. “It’s so rewarding. It’s excellent to know you are giving someone a skill that can change their life.”


Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly: provides low-cost internet, tablets and digital training through its Tech Allies program. A recent group of participants ranged in age from 62 to 98. One woman who lacked internet access and tech savvy remarked, “I’m just not part of this world anymore. In certain facets of society, I just can’t join. … Some [things] just are not possible if you are not in the flow of the internet.” Tech Allies partners with existing community-based organizations.


Other class sources may include your local library, senior center or community college.


Benefits Are Extensive


Many argue that having training and access to technology should be greatly expanded in light of the $8 billion invested last year in digital health companies. Telehealth is now covered by Medicare, and it’s a boon for older adults who are homebound or whose conditions make getting out to an appointment difficult. As the pandemic has shown us, it also reduces exposure to harmful pathogens.


The ability to access technology will only become more important in future years. As new products are put on the market, older adults who can benefit from the technology will need training and support. Tech companies seeking access to a large market of older adults may begin offering classes geared to this demographic. As one older adult learning how to use an iPad put it, “It’s time to catch up, you know, and join the world.”





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