Helping seniors surf the Net


More senior citizens are going online, but many continue to avoid technology, including cellphones. Although rates of Internet usage among seniors are increasing, they are still far below the national average.

According to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of seniors reported going online in 2014 – a 6 percent increase over the prior year. Still, 41 percent do not have Internet at home and nearly one out of four older adults don’t use cell phones.

Younger, higher-income, and more highly educated seniors use the Internet at rates similar to – or even exceeding – the general population, but Internet use drops off dramatically around age 75.

Some seniors have physical conditions or health issues that make it difficult to use new technologies. Relatedly, a majority of older adults say they need assistance when it comes to using new digital devices. Only 18 percent reported they would feel comfortable learning to use a new technology device such as a smartphone or tablet on their own, while 77 percent indicate they would need someone to help walk them through the process.

Some older adults also reported being skeptical of the advantages of technology. Yet, once seniors go online, digital technology becomes important to them and they use it regularly. Among those who start using the Internet, nearly all of those surveyed by Pew – 94 percent – agreed with the statement: “The Internet makes it much easier to find information today than in the past.”

Computer classes are increasingly available for older adults at libraries, senior and recreation centers, and lifelong learning centers such as OASIS in Montgomery Mall, Bethesda, and Live and Learn Bethesda. The Jewish Council for the Aging provides a series of class in Virginia and Maryland.

“Technology, especially email and Skype, are good ways to stay in touch today and talk with grandchildren,” said Ellen Greenberg, JCA’s director of information and education.

JCA, she explained, has partnered with Microsoft at Pentagon City and Tysons Corner in Virginia to teach adults 50+ to use tablets. JCA also provides “SeniorTech” instruction at Landmark Mall in Virginia and at the JCA Bronfman Center in Rockville and Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg. Nearly 50 different classes at introductory and higher skill levels are offered, such as Getting Started with Your IPad, Using Excel, and assisted practice sessions. Fees range from $15 for a single class to $80 for a series.

Leslie Shapiro, 68, who took the SeniorTech class on iPad, said: “The instructors know how to teach a senior and use nontechnical terms that make it easy to learn.”

Wanda Evans-Moore, 61, took JCA’s basic computer class for eight weeks and conquered her fear of surfing the Web. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to catch up with it. I started taking computer classes when I decided to stop being afraid,” she said. Offering reassurance to others, she added, “It takes time, but you can do it.”

For those who are already tech savvy, JCA needs volunteers at their Microsoft and SeniorTech classes. All volunteers receive training.

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