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In her work at Greenspring, Sue Franke, LCSW, sees older adults yearning to be more technologically active, whether that involves accessing the Internet so they can communicate with family, taking part in bowling tournaments via Nintendo’s Wii gaming system, or helping at the community’s television station.
“The residents are so eager to learn about the new technologies, and they embrace the challenge of learning about new technologies,” says Franke, Greenspring’s lead independent living social worker.
And while some older technology users have been long familiar with computers and the Internet, many older adults are acquiring technology skills for the first time as they age.
Companies nationwide are trying to tap into the market opportunities by taking well-known technology modalities, such as social networking, e-mailing, and Internet browsing, and making them “elder friendly.” Freddolino, for example, is providing research support to Connected Living, a Massachusetts-based company that promotes a multifaceted approach to technology engagement among older adults.
There are myriad reasons older adults have turned to technology.
Older adults see technology as a tool for connecting with family and friends, developing new friendships, exploring options for entertainment and hobbies, accessing support and information about health topics, and managing activities of daily life, such as banking and shopping (Blaschke, Freddolino, & Mullen, 2009).
“All of the sudden, these [older adults] realize someone cares about them, that they are important and that there’s a vibrant community they can be a part of,” she says.
“A lot of our customers are novices, but they hear about things like Facebook and they want to try them out,” Lewis says.
“They realize that there are more and more activities that require using a computer.” Social service agencies also are seeing the potential.
“The idea is to help older adults connect with family, other adults, and their communities,” says Sarah Hoit, Connected Living’s CEO.
“Just because older adults are living together in a retirement community, that doesn’t mean they’re connected.
Although older adults as a group continue to lag behind their younger counterparts in adopting new technology, an increasing number of elders like Raymond and Schmidt are using the Internet, Facebook, Skype, and other tools to connect with friends, family members, and caregivers.