Technology for Independent Senior Living
While collecting thoughts for this article, I remembered Dr. Robert Iadeluca, who was living on his own until a few weeks before he passed away last summer at the age of 98. Every day he did a handful of things on his desktop computer: he read the New York Times, checked his emails, read the latest Facebook posts, researched on the web for information, and wrote articles which were also published in this magazine. I would like to share some information and tips so other seniors can also take steps toward connectivity and independence through technology. An added bonus: not only can technology be useful, it can also be fun!
If you’re just starting out, you’ll need some help to get up and running. Your adult children are the obvious ones to ask, but don’t count out grandchildren! Young adults, teens, and even pre-teens are very technology-savvy these days and are often the best ones to show you how to have fun online!
Just last week my 87-year-old Mom, who lives alone in Munich, expressed how much she loves our weekly Skype sessions. It’s not the same as being there, but at least we can see each other face to face. On the average Sunday, we have an online family gathering with my mother, me and my wife in Warrenton, all three of our daughters, my sister, and one or two nephews, all the way from different cities in Germany, New Jersey, and Lusaka, Zambia. Yes, this is possible with the internet!
The ways we stay in touch with family and friends have changed significantly over the last few decades. Hand-written letters have sadly become rare. If you want to communicate quickly with children, grandchildren, and younger friends, they most likely prefer a text message or email, all of which they can access on their mobile phones. If you still have an older model “flip phone,” you can still perform these tasks. But there are so many more technological applications out there nowadays that you should certainly consider upgrading to a larger touch screen phone which will open up so many more doors for you. This will enable you to take and share photos and communicate visually through apps such as FaceTime, Skype, or WhatsApp where you can chat and see each other while you’re doing it.
You can do much of your shopping online from the comfort of your home; for example, ordering groceries and medicine to be delivered to your door, which can be especially helpful for seniors with limited mobility or transportation issues. For security purposes, always use a credit card when shopping online, instead of a debit card or automatic withdrawal from your bank account.
There are so many programs online to train your brain, play interactive and individual games, and more. My mother enjoys Scrabble with me online, and my father-in-law challenges himself every day with Solitaire. Kindles and light tablets are perfect for accessing E-books. You don’t necessarily need to purchase them or have a monthly subscription; you can access thousands of electronic and audio books for free via the OverDrive App through your local library. Ask about this next time you go to the library. I enjoy listening to audiobooks on my phone or on the computer.
If you have questions while you are on your journey through technology, please contact me at 540-428-2376 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy providing one-on-one classes, too.
Choosing a device
Available types of devices: Smartphone, tablet, laptop computer, desktop computer.
Cost: Often, a tablet is the most economical way to access the internet. Smartphones have evolved into actual tiny computers these days, and can be quite expensive. Laptops and desktop computers, which have the advantage of being more powerful and having larger screens, are more expensive options.
Screen size: With smartphones having the smallest screens, tablets are a little bigger and will come in a choice of sizes. Laptops are generally available up to 15 inch screens, and desktop screens can be any size, up to almost as big as a television!
The types of activities you will be using the device for:
- Taking photos: photos can be taken with a smartphone or tablet
- Communication: Skyping, FaceTime, WhatsApp, emailing, and sharing photos can be done with a smartphone, tablet, or a laptop/desktop as long as it is equipped with a built-in camera.
- Surfing the internet, using social media such as Facebook: Any of the devices can be used for these purposes.
- Online shopping: any of the devices can be used, although it’s easier on a bigger screen
- Playing online games: Best on a tablet or laptop or desktop computer
- Reading ebooks: Most comfortably done on a tablet, but can be done on a smartphone.
- Word processing, photo editing, graphic design, databases (for genealogy purposes, for example) and extensive research are much more conveniently done on a laptop or desktop.
- The availability of a wireless network, or “WiFi,” in your home is a big consideration when choosing a device.
- Laptops and desktop computers will need a wireless network in the home to access the internet. Smartphones and tablets can also be used on home wireless networks also, and that is the most economical way to do any internet activities.
- Smartphones and certain tablets that are enabled for cell service can access the internet from anywhere with cell phone service, but you will pay a certain amount for it depending on how much you use it. Often providers offer plans with a certain amount of data included.
- Internet is usually provided to your home via your cable service, such as Xfinity, a special phone line, or by a satellite dish. The wireless network is set up inside your home.
I think an inexpensive tablet or Chromebook (sometimes under $100) is often a good start for seniors. These usually have built in cameras for taking photos, making short videos, and Skyping, and allow you to send/receive emails and surf the internet.
A word of caution: while technology has many benefits for seniors, it can also be used against them, and they are especially vulnerable. Read our article on protecting seniors from scams and frauds in this issue.