How to Design Technology Training for Seniors

As a follow up to my post, Tips in Helping Seniors with Technology, here are some additional ideas on how to effectively train older persons, whether it’s one on one or within a class:

  1. The more you understand about the senior, the easier it will be to plan your training.  First consider their age; seniors 60-70, 70-80 and 80+ will likely have very different concerns.  Furthermore, seniors within the same age range may be very unlike each other, and will respond to training differently.
  2. Help the senior to prioritize.   Many seniors who I’ve worked with start with a long list of questions and need assistance in deciding what to learn first.
  3. Keep the training focused and targeted on a specific task.  Repeat an idea in multiple ways to insure understanding before moving to other areas.
  4. Take the time to ask why the older person wants to learn about technology, e.g. what they want to accomplish.  If you understand their motivation, it’s much easier to design a training they will benefit from.
  5. Patience is key.  If you find yourself becoming irritable with having to explain a concept multiple times, end the training session early and start again when you can be a better teacher (the problem isn’t the senior).
  6. Make group sessions as interactive as possible.  Encourage the seniors to ask questions and to share their own knowledge with the class.
  7. If you’re working with a senior services organization such as Dorot or Selfhelp Community Services, learn as much about what other services / programs the senior is already involved with.  This will help you to optimize your training.
  8. Regularly get feedback on how well you’re doing.   Especially if you work with a senior over an extended time period, you may need to adjust your teaching style to accommodate their learning preference.
  9. Remember the overall value of increasing the senior’s social interactions with other seniors, with younger persons and with the community.  This may be as important as whether they ‘get’ the specific knowledge you’re teaching.
  10. Remember the basics in helping seniors to concentrate: minimize background noise, provide good lighting and use large font sizes.  Also, keep the training sessions short as many seniors (as do many younger people) may not be able to stay focused for a longer class.

During your training, students may express sadness that their life is more limited than when they were younger.  If so, offer this suggestion which I heard at last week’s Caregiving Symposium (mentioned in this post), “Mourn what you lost but remember what you can still do.”

Caregiving Technology Pioneers

On Friday, June 22, I attended the 2nd Annual Caregiving Symposium, hosted by the South Florida Institute of Aging (SoFIA).  At a particularly interesting session on caregiving technology pioneers, I learned about these new products focused on helping those of us who care for family and friends:

  1. PAPA – Grandkids On-Demand – College students are available to help older adults with transportation, household help, technology lessons, or just to provide companionship.  Especially for seniors who don’t have children or grandchildren who can help, this is a great way to get some extra assistance remaining in your own home.
  2. Room2Care – Provides a way for seniors to get help while living with a younger person – another wonderful example of an intergenerational program.
  3. CarePredict – This new wearable device goes far beyond the typical monitor that alerts you after an accident has happened.  This product is designed to keep a caregiver aware of their relative’s movement, and to generate alerts when there has been a sudden change in behavior to provide better senior care through predictive analytics.

If you don’t currently have a need for these types of products, remember this quote by Rosalyn Carter about ‘four kinds of people’:

  • those who have been caregivers
  • those who are currently caregivers
  • those who will be caregivers
  • those who will need caregivers

These new products are especially worth knowing about since they provide opportunities for older persons to live independently for as long as possible.  Thanks to SoFIA for putting together such an informative event.

Here are more reasons for seniors to get tech savvy, featuring additional products and services targeted to senior care.

Get Free Tech Help This Summer

Think you’re ‘too old’ to jump on the Internet / online bandwagon?  Think again.  At Senior Planet, an initiative of Older Adults Technology Services, you can get computer training in Manhattan, upstate New York, Maryland or at multiple satellite locations around NYC.

Membership in Senior Planet is free to anyone 60 or over and provides multiple perks, such as access to computers, workshops and a daily ‘tech talk.’  Registration for the NYC class begins Thu, 6/21 from 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM and Fri, 6/22 from 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM.

Thomas Kamber, Executive Director of OATS and Senior Planet, has created a truly unique resource for older persons to learn more about technology.  At Senior Planet, any tech question is OK and you will never hear anyone tell you that your age is a barrier to learning.

Here are more reasons for seniors to get tech savvy.

Why Age Segregation Isn’t a Good Idea

In Florida, I’ve noticed that there is an abundance of 55 and over communities, where the assumption is that older persons only want to live with other older persons.  Maybe this is true for many of us;  after all, our closest friends are usually close to our own age.  The tendency towards age segregation seems to be increasing, but is this really such a good thing?

Organizations like Older Adults Technology Services and Dorot offer a wide range of intergenerational activities. (Dorot received the Eisner Prize for Intergenerational Excellence last year).  It also helps demonstrate the diversity of older persons, and that their lives aren’t only focus on disease and/or dementia.   It also helps reduce ageism as generations gain more comfort interacting with each other.

Age segregation wasn’t always the norm in American society.  And despite the trend towards ‘senior’ living arrangements, there are other housing models that are gaining traction.  Socializing with those of other ages gives us a perspective that we can’t always get from our contemporaries.  This benefit extends as much as to the young as to the old.

Do you make an effort to develop and maintain relationships with those of all ages?  If so, it could add much richness to your life – and to theirs.

Changing the Conversation about Aging in America

Today’s blog post is excerpted from a Frameworks Communication Toolkit, which contains many wonderful ideas and resources on how to change the conversation about aging in America from a time of decline and deterioration to a time of challenge and opportunity.  Also see this recent post Reframing Aging: Growing “Old at Heart” from the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

From griots to gurus to Yoda, our culture abounds in novels, movies, and folklore that celebrate the wisdom and experience of older people. Day to day, however, we haven’t done as good a job in weaving their knowledge and experience into our social fabric. Creating spaces in our communities for older Americans to continue to participate as full members of society is not simply a matter of “listening to your elders.” Instead, it is about living up to our belief in treating all people equally—and that means fostering an environment in which older adults’ contributions are recognized and valued.

Addressing workplace discrimination is one way we can do this. As Americans live longer and healthier lives, many are delaying retirement, staying in the workforce longer, or seeking new opportunities in the job market. And despite research showing that older workers make for better employees—scoring higher in leadership than their younger colleagues and performing well in detail-oriented tasks, writing skills, and problem-solving—they are often forced out of their positions or not hired into roles for which they are highly qualified. Older women may be doubly affected because of people’s assumption that their only experiences are in caregiving and homemaking. As a result, when older men and women are unemployed, they are likely to remain so long term.

Age discrimination deeply affects people’s quality of life and ability to make a living for themselves. Couple that discrimination with a lack of policies that can address the problem, and it’s easy to see how we are pushing older Americans to the margins of our society. That affects us all—not to mention the health and vitality of our communities. Justice requires us to change how our society deals with getting older.

One step toward achieving justice is recognizing how implicit bias affects the way we think about aging. From news coverage of older Americans being scammed out of their life savings, to paternalistic commercials about aging-related products and popular TV characters like Mr. Wilson of Dennis the Menace, our culture routinely bolsters common stereotypes of older people as too vulnerable to handle their own affairs, frail and sick, or “difficult.” As a result, we often make negative judgments about older people based on their age alone. Those unintentional biases have real life implications. The more aware of these biases we become, the less likely we are to act on “snap judgments”—and the more likely we are to treat people fairly, regardless of age.

We know that investing in children and their education is an investment in the future of our communities. Similarly, we need to adjust our policies and systems so that we can better integrate everyone’s energy and experiences into our society throughout the life course. Promoting communities where aging is recognized as an asset and an opportunity – for growth, ingenuity, and creativity—is the smart, and just, thing to do. We are all better off by being inclusive.

Tips In Helping Seniors With Technology

Through my work with Dorot, I often help seniors with technology challenges.  Some questions are fairly basic, like how to use email or browse a website, but others are not.  As in most areas, older persons are very diverse, so I try not to come in with any preconceived ideas about how much they do or don’t know about computers.

Recently, a senior wanted to use a picture someone had emailed her to insert into her blog.  There were a lot more steps to the process than I expected:

  • saving the picture from email to her computer
  • knowing where on the computer the picture was saved
  • renaming the file name so it wouldn’t appear as only a number
  • resizing the photo so it fit well on her blog
  • uploading the photo to her blog
  • aligning the photo so it wrapped around existing text

Many of us who have done this type of process for years may not realize how difficult it is for someone who hasn’t.  In this case, we uploaded the photo onto her blog, but I reviewed the process multiple times to make sure she understood – and recommended that she take notes to reinforce what we had done.

It’s easy to assume that the problem is the older person, that they’re not tech savvy and have difficulty learning something new.  But when I work with seniors, I reassure them that they’re not the problem!  Technology can be challenging for people of any age, and it doesn’t help when the software we use has user interfaces that are not intuitive (this is why Apple insures there is consistency between many software products that run on its platform).

So don’t assume that seniors can’t learn.  They are often eager to utilize the technology that many of us take for granted.  They just need encouragement and support to get their questions answered.

Reducing Isolation for Seniors

As I’ve observed from some of my own family members, many seniors  can easily become socially isolated from others and from the community.  This can be due to: declining health, life transitions, ageism in society and lack of access to transportation / services.  Risk of loneliness also increases if you don’t have a spouse or partner, socialize with others infrequently, have few friends (some who may have passed away) and if you have strained family relationships.

Loneliness is not the same as being socially isolated or alone.  Some people live relatively solitary lives and are rarely lonely while others with an active social life often feel lonely.  How much do you know about isolation and older adults?  Take this quiz.

Fortunately, many web sites, articles and other resources are addressing this issue, some which are highlighted below:

Tip – many older people don’t just want to socialize with other older people.  This newly released survey and report by Generations United and the Eisner Foundation demonstrates how generations can learn from each other – and why age segregation makes that difficult.

Also, Fighting Social Isolation: A View from the Trenches, reviews lessons learned from Older Adults Technology Services‘ efforts to help seniors to feel more connected.

Do you know of an older person who could use some company or encouragement to interact with others?  If so, start there.

My New Blog – How Seniors Can Live Well at Any Age

Most of us spend time providing caregiving for parents during their late stages of life to reciprocate for their having cared for us when we were young.  As an only child, my role extended to care for many aging relatives, many who no one else available to help.  This was sometimes hard to balance with the rest of my life, but rather than viewing this as a burden, I usually felt gratified to be able to help.

(Probably the most challenging situation my cousin Henry who was fiercely independent and would resist my getting involved until he had no other choice.  After his passing, it took me years to clear out his apartment and to distribute his assets which mostly went to his nieces.)

As I’ve had fewer relatives to help, I turned my attention to helping other seniors, often using my background in nonprofit technology.  In 2012, I began working with Dorot as a computer tutor, event scheduler and volunteer and visited seniors at home with holiday packages.  Since 2014, I have led a monthly Virtual Senior Center class for Selfhelp Community Services, allowing homebound seniors to join an online community while learning.  In 2015, I began advising the newly launched Radical Age Movement on technology, participating in a social media committee and preparing / sending email marketing campaigns.  Also in 2015, I started my involvement with Senior Planet, an amazing Manhattan facility which allows anyone 60+ to get help with technology (sponsored by Older Adults Technology Services).

It’s become clear to me that the traditional view of ‘retiring’ at 65 (or younger) no longer makes sense.  Most seniors continue to want to lead active, productive lives as long as they can.  By the work which I’ve done for the above organizations, I hope I’ve been able to help them to do so.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to fit in my multiple roles in helping seniors with my full time work as a nonprofit project manager.  But now I seek to make to expand my commitment to work with seniors full time, using technology as a tool to reduce social isolation and to maintain community engagement which will hopefully help them to stay healthy for as long as possible.

This blog will feature resources which describe how seniors can live a full, engaged life whatever their age.