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Wired for change

Senior adults keeping pace with new technologies

Created date

May 21st, 2013

Marna Keith remembers the first time she used a computer. It was in the early 1990s, says Marna, founder of the Discovery School, a pre-school through sixth grade campus in Richardson, Tex. It was a monstrous [Texas Instruments] TI computer. I was so excited to use it that I sat down and created a list of students names and phone numbers. At the end of the day, I hit a button and deleted the entire list. Fortunately, Marna s introduction to the world of computers didn t stop her from engaging with new technologies. These days, you ll find her checking emails on her iPhone and logging on to Facebook on her iPad. Marna is part of a growing wave of older adults embracing the digital age. In April 2012, for the first time since the Pew Research Center s Internet and American Life Project began conducting surveys, more than half (53%) of people over the age of 65 were online. That number has since inched up to 54%. Unlike the early days of her computer use, Marna has moved well beyond word processing. Now she uses Web-based applications to check email, download pictures, visit social networking sites, play games, read the bible, and, of course, use Google. Google is my way of finding things out, says Marna. If I want to know the score of the basketball game, I Google it.

Beyond the desktop

For tech-savvy seniors like Marna, one device isn t enough. Factors like screen size, portability, and available applications determine whether she will use her laptop computer, iPhone, iPad, or Pantech tablet. I almost always have my phone with me, says Marna. I use it to make calls and check email. When I travel, I take the iPad and use it as a camera and a map. The Pantech is lighter and virtually indestructible, so I slip it in my purse when I m running around. Marna, a resident ofHighland Springs, the Erickson Living community in North Dallas, says living near other seniors encourages open dialogue about the latest devices. I m amazed at how technology is sweeping this community, says Marna. The topic comes up frequently at dinner. Residents are constantly sharing tips about cell phone and tablet use.

Always learning

In late February, the University of Texas at Dallas sent a handful of information technology students to Highland Springs to answer residents questions about mobile technology. We had about 45 residents come for the tutorial, says Barbara Blachly, community resources coordinator at Highland Springs. The residents brought their own devices, and the students from UTD answered the residents questions. Marna attended the tutorial, wanting to learn more about Skype, an online application that allows users to make free video calls. The students loved helping the residents, says Pagett Gosslee, director of development and alumni relations for the school of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. I think they related to them as they would their own grandparents. I feel comfortable trying new devices and technology, says Marna. I realize there s not too much you can do that s irreversible. Even that long-ago list of student s names and addresses was probably still in the computer somewhere. You just have to keep punching buttons and figuring out how it all works.