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Who’s afraid of Technology?

December 16, 2009
Times Leader
BARBARA?E. RILEY, Ohio Department of Aging Director
The common stereotype is that older adults do not adopt, and are even afraid of, new technologies. Try telling that to Barbara St. Hilaire, of Mantua, Ohio. Better known by her nickname “Old Grandma Hardcore,” St. Hilaire, 71, admits she plays video games about 10 hours a day. She has a frequently viewed blog in which she gives tips and hints about certain games, among other things. In December 2005, she was hired by MTV as their “senior” video game correspondent and in 2006 she won the Nintendo World Stores’ “Coolest Grandparent of the Year” Brain Age contest.
Older adults generally have a positive attitude about adopting new technology as long as it meets their practical standards for reliability, usefulness, ease of use and practicality. They are willing to use any technology that they believe will enhance or improve their quality of life and help them stay independent and engaged. Since they have successfully lived this long without these devices, they may need to be convinced the devices will significantly improve their lives. They tend to focus on the basic functions of any device rather than the bells, whistles and other options that younger generations require.
Technology companies are starting to pay closer attention to the older adult market. U.S. adults age 64 and older who bought technology in a three-month period spent an average $365 on consumer electronics products and $429 on computer hardware and peripherals, Forrester Research reports.
Technology designed for the mass market, without regard to age, is being embraced by older adults. Nintendo’s Wii video game system has caught on with seniors who are using simulations like bowling for entertainment and low-impact exercise. Global positioning systems (GPS) not only help older adults travel safely, they also provide instant access to the nearest health care, automobile repair facility or pharmacy; and with tracking technology, seniors involved in an accident can get a quicker response from emergency responders who can receive real time location information. More seniors are acquiring digital cameras and iPods because they are easy to use and the prices are coming down.
According to the AARP, people age 50 and older are as likely as younger people to have cell phones, while most people age 65 and older buy them for security in an emergency. Most older cell phone users want a phone that will allow them to make calls or send messages without going through a lot of steps. They are not interested in taking pictures or videos, playing games, texting or any of the hundreds of other applications that are available for cell phones today. Once they have a phone, an older adult can “wear it” all day and have it pre-programmed with emergency numbers for one-touch dialing.
Many seniors are signing up for computer classes through local schools, community centers and public libraries. Recent studies have found that older adults who become adept at using a computer appear to have fewer depressive symptoms than those who are not so technologically connected. Researchers also have found that older adults who started browsing the Web experienced improved brain function after only a few days.
Americans ages 55 to 64 are more active in online finance, shopping and entertainment than those under 55. Older adults use computers and e-mail to stay in touch with family and friends, helping them feel connected and engaged with others and the world around them. Many seniors with hearing problems find it much easier to e-mail someone rather than try and talk to them on the telephone. Grandparents find the Internet a great way to stay a part of their grandkids’ lives.
However, stereotypes are hard to overcome. A recent AARP study asked older adults and their caregivers if they would use technologies that would help the older adults remain safely in their homes. Both groups said they were willing to use these devices, but more than eight in ten caregivers - typically adult children - said they did not think older adults would want to use assistive technology.


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