Normally I write about children and technology, but this time I want to look at the other side of the user spectrum -- our senior generation. Working both with seniors and technology for years, I have found many things that would make life easier for them in our technological society, but there still seems to be a gap in understanding just what our elders face when dealing with technology.
Seniors face three critical problems when it comes to technology:
•Fear -- We need to relay to them that there isn't anything they can do to technology that we can't fix or replace and conversely seniors need to be willing to ask for help.
•Constant change and slower learning
•Visual, auditory and motor problems
As I'm sure many of you are aware, the older you get, the more difficult it is to learn new things. In a world of ever-changing technology, this can present serious problems as our minds and bodies move slowly into the latter part of life.
What I would like to see is an operating system developed exclusively for seniors. No, I'm not talking about wiring a PC into your grandmother's brain, although that could make Thanksgiving dinners very interesting. "Hey Grandma, what's the Food Network say about the mashed potatoes?"
Ideally, I'd like to see something that utilizes Skype, email and perhaps a way of recording family history that would be helpful so that grandparents and great-grandparents can reach out to the family unit in multiple ways. Give them a platform that is easy to use, scaled down and simple, something not constantly changing. Much of their fear centers on too many choices on the screen.
Those who work daily with seniors can attest first hand to how frustrating constant change and too many options can be for them, "For elders who have not had experience with the latest technologies, simplicity and consistency will optimize the best chances for success.", states Sarah Langer, a Geriatric Social Worker with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
If we can provide the same amazing video, voice and textual communication capabilities that we use every day, but in a more simplistic environment for our greatest generation, it will allow them to be able to reconnect those who don't keep in contact. They require access to the technologies but in a format that doesn't change with constant updates. Langer continues to explain; "The adage 'less is more' holds true when it comes to finding ways to use technology to connect elders with their families and friends who live far away, or are unable to visit in person as finding free time in our busy lives becomes more difficult."
Over the last several decades, it has become more common for families to move to distant towns, cities and states, far from where they grew up. The family unit, once closely knit in a small geographic region, has been scattered across the country or world. In the middle of the twentieth century, the elderly lived at home with their middle-aged children and their grandchildren. They told stories of the past, taught their extended family about its history and babysat the young children so their parents could go out.
Sadly, this family dynamic is no longer there for many families.
Many of us have found that, having to seek better pay, better school and job opportunities, we have traveled far from the lands in which we grew, leaving our parents to fend for themselves. Initially, our parents and grandparents are able to cope with the empty nest, finding friends to spend time with, work and activities to keep them busy. As they grow older, however, their bodies break down and they are subjected to more time spent at home -- something that eventually hits us all. Having no children around, they must rely on neighbors, nurses and the kindness of others to help them get around and deal with their physical and medical problems.
My grandfather will be 85 this year. He was the type of person who was on the cutting edge of technology, having repaired televisions and reel-to-reel tape recorders in the 1950s, later getting into video recording during the 1970s and 1980s. So the migration to computers was not only easier for him than for others his age, but he also welcomed it. He lacked the fear that so many seniors have and this has made it easier for him to handle technology. He's not afraid to pick up a phone and call me when he has a question, but then again, I am easy going and don't make people feel ignorant when they have a trivial question.
I remember going to his house in the 90s and he had a nice spread of technology -- scanners, printers, etc. -- that he used to compile the old family photos and create the family tree. I spent hours looking through all of the video, photos and data he had collected. It fascinated me.
It also got me thinking that most seniors do not take to technology as well as my grandfather did, but the desire to bind the family together remains strong. Our elders are a wealth of stories and information but just lack the know-how and patience with which to tackle such an extensive project in today's world -- but today's technology contains the perfect tools to help reconnect the branches of the family tree -- It has all the capabilities to keep in touch through text, photos, audio and video with all facets of the family experience.
Many elders have a lot of time on their hands and would treasure being able to be the glue that can bind the family back together, but we as their children and grandchildren need to find ways to make it easier for them to do so. What would really help our seniors would be individuals specifically trained on how to teach and work with our seniors and technology, call them "Technology Advisors for Seniors". What do you feel would make technology easier for our greatest generation?