Although technology opportunities in today’s world are expanding at breakneck speed, many elderly seniors are still without access to computers and communication tools. On this blog I have described research that associates technology experiences with increased intellectual stimulation in Technology and Senior Adults and Elder Seniors – Enthusiastic Videoconferencers.
While many seniors embrace technology, many — including some of our aging parents — do not have the opportunity or the confidence to explore. As they grow older, they feel even less empowered. Opportunities must be created for these “technology have-nots.” At a time in their lives when they feel less and less connected to the outside world, they can use computers to access resources, staying connected to friends and family.
In a retirement or assisted living community, or even in a nursing home, a space is easily set up, and I’ve observed a few lovely facilities with great hardware and software. I’ve also seen a lot that are terribly neglected. Just equipping a room, however, is not enough. The most successful technology spaces include people — staff, family members, and volunteers, especially teens — who support and teach residents. These individuals are the third component of a successful technology space — the “peopleware.” They may provide training, ongoing support, or just plain cheerleading. Some of them can keep the computers up-to-date and in top condition. For seniors, technology training needs to be a social activity as well as a technical endeavor.
Administrators and activities staff can organize staff, volunteers, and even some residents to support a technology center, paying special attention in a number of ways.
Establishing and Maintaining the Institutional Environment
- Hire activities staff and seek interns who, along with other qualifications, have experience with computers, especially with using e-mail, word processing, and the world wide web.
- Remind all staff members and volunteers to refrain from talking about their personal ineptness or difficulties with computers (a topic many enjoy these days). Nothing is more demoralizing to people trying to master new technology than to hear others joke about difficulties and problems.
- Schedule one hour a week in the technology center for each staff member. Besides making everyone a part of the technology scene, staff members can gain a lot of insight about how residents learn.
- Recruit volunteers who can assist with computer maintenance and others who, with some training, can troubleshoot and serve as mentors to residents at scheduled times (a great activity for high school and college students).
- Schedule supervised “drop-in” sessions for residents as well as training sessions on a regular basis.What goes on in the technology center should be an official part of the activities program. On a regular basis schedule supervised “drop-in” sessions for residents as well as training sessions.
- Maintain the lab. Frozen computers and paper jammed printers demoralize learners.
Equipping the Technology Space — for a Small Center
- Three to five computers, networked with a printer.
- One scanner, attached to one of the computers.
- One or two digital cameras and a couple of flip video cameras
- Music players (iPods, mp3 players, etc.)
- Internet access.
- Headphones — enough sets for two people to work together on each computer.
Installing Software on the Computers (initial installs)
- Web browser (An upcoming posting will discuss how to make a good home page for a senior computer center.)
- Word processing and spreadsheet
- Simple digital picture editing