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How to set up older adults for tech success

Posted May 30

As more seniors enter the world of smartphones and internet access, they often need help navigating their way. The right gadgets and tech-savvy helpers could make all the difference in their understanding and your sanity. (Deseret Photo)

I don’t know about you, but I have somehow become tech support for various friends and family, but I’m not complaining! I am actually thrilled that my 70-something-year-old father has a smartphone and is open to trying new things on it to make his life easier.

A new survey from Pew Research Center finds seniors over the age of 65 are getting more and more connected to the digital world. Four in 10 now own smartphones; more than double the amount who did in 2013. While that’s a great number, the majority of seasoned adults still either use a dumb phone or no mobile device at all.

More seniors are using the internet than ever before as well. Pew Research Center finds 67 percent of adults ages 65 and older say they go online, with about one-third saying they use social networking sites. This is important. Michigan State University studied more than 3,000 retired adults and found that using the internet reduced their probability of developing depression by more than 30 percent.

A big problem persists, though. In that same Pew Research Center survey, 34 percent of senior internet users say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks. So how do we help without spending hours of our lives patiently explaining where to click and tap?

One place to start is by getting our loved ones the right equipment.

While some reviewers tout the benefits to seniors of some of the most popular smartphones (the simplicity of an iPhone, or the customization of the Samsung Galaxy), there are several smartphones designed specifically for older adults.

The Jitterbug Smart phone has a bigger 5.5-inch touchscreen with a simple one-list menu and large icons for $150. It has all the basics, plus a possible upgrade to include Health and Safety packages starting at $19.99 per month. Seniors may have the need for the options of an urgent response button, and 24/7 access to live medical help, including prescription refills.

The Doro 824 SmartEasy phone has big tiles and an easy button for emergency calls for $200. Another great feature allows trusted loved ones to remotely access the phone to help with certain things like editing and entering contacts.

Once you’ve agreed on which technology the seniors in your life will use, there are also some great resources to help them figure out how to operate it all.

The American Association of Retired Persons has a robust technology section on its website. Each topic includes a short interactive video to learn everything you need to know to be a good digital citizen. The tablet and smartphone section breaks down each operating system with specific instructions on things like how to get directions using Google Maps on your Android phone.

Its social media section goes over video chat, Facebook, Twitter and even Google+. A "Connected Life" section helps older adults learn the best ways to keep in touch with family and friends through the web, and finally a section on online safety teaches how to keep private information safe.

If the senior in your life wants more of a one-on-one tutorial experience, find out if a local organization or program might have classes or tutors available to help. High school students in Ohio and Illinois are helping older adults learn how to work their gadgets.

There’s an actual startup in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area called Teeniors that pairs tech-savvy teens with seniors to help empower them through human connection. Teeniors says they don't just fix tech problems, but offer personalized, fun, friendly (patient) one-on-one coaching at a reasonable price.

To find out what tech help is available in your area, contact your nearby library, senior center or school. Your local agency on aging may also offer solutions. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 or go to the elder care website to find resources near your loved one.

It’s fantastic if you have the time, knowledge and patience to be tech support for your parents or grandparents. One wonderful solution might be to have your teenager spend some quality time with a grandparent teaching about technology as a service to them. But it’s also OK to find outside help to guide the seniors in your life through the digital world. They just might understand it better, and your relationship might be all the better for it.

Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson

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