Feb 26, 2013 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Carol Chesne, a resident at the Kahala Nui retirement community, is a regular on Facebook. She has a smartphone, iPad and laptop at home and loves playing "Word with Friends."
"I have 18 games going. Sometimes a move can take a half-hour because you want a good word," she said.
But the 79-year-old wasn't always so tech-savvy. She needed help and a lot of encouragement to get plugged in after her son told her 20 years ago that she needed to learn how to send email.
"It took me about eight hours. I spent the whole day figuring things out," she said. "The kids drag you into it. At first I thought I'd break something, delete something or the computer would blow up."
Now Chesne can't imagine her life without technology and has become an e-vangelist, spreading the word among her peers about the joys of social media and going online.
"I have friends who don't have cellphones. I don't know how they live without them," she said. "I needed to drag my husband into the 21st century, so I gave him an iPhone.
"We have grandchildren on the mainland, so it's a great way to keep in touch with family and friends. One's more motivated to learn when you know what you will use it for."
Keeping in touch with grandchildren, getting health advice and catching up with old pals are just a few of the reasons seniors like Chesne are joining the Digital Age.
"Seniors are very interested in learning more about social media," said Bruce Bottorff, associate state director of the AARP. "They are setting up Facebook accounts but are concerned about the privacy settings. It's a strange and possibly threatening place. We are trying to demystify them through education."
The AARP plans to offer classes during the spring to introduce seniors to social media concepts, and is working with Honolulu Community College's Emeritus College, a continuing education program for seniors, to establish a SeniorNet site in Hawaii. (SeniorNet is a nonprofit organization that supports computer-using seniors and offers them computer literacy workshops.)
"There's a natural layer of resistance to all new things," Bottorff said. "But if you crack open a door that people haven't explored, they will want to push it open and look for more."
While many seniors are already using computers and social media, Bottorff says many have still to dabble in new technology, including the "younger" ones in the 50-to-65 age group.
"Thirty percent of our members are still working. Many are in the workforce but not comfortable with technology that they do not need to use in the workplace," he said.
"Our 65-to-80-year-old group consists of people who are newly retired and are exploring hobbies and interests; trying to reinvent themselves. They may use the Internet to date or start a new business."
It's easier to get connected if seniors are surrounded by family and friends who are using new technology on a daily basis, according to Bottorff. He said they may have specific uses in mind and may not be among the typical daily users.
"It's not like they will log in with a cup of coffee and stay there all day, but it allows them to stay connected with the world," he said. "Once they learn what these tools can do and they are connected to a broader world, people wake up and find it exciting."
To help more seniors get connected, Hi'olani Care Center at Kahala Nui recently installed an adaptive personal computer system by iN2L (It's Never 2 Late) of Centennial, Colo. Along with providing access to email, Skype video chats and the Internet, the picture-based, touch-screen platform offers puzzles, games, music, movies and other activities to sharpen cognitive skills and improve hand-eye coordination, and the company says the system enables almost anyone, even those with dementia, to use a personal computer.
"These machines help our residents utilize their creativity and encourage lifelong learning," said Jay Duquette, Hi'olani Care Center administrator.
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