Learning the language
Program helps seniors break the technology barrier
By Katie Wampler | Staff writer
Forget the stereotypical image of an 80-year-old man stubbornly refusing to be within 10 feet of a computer. If one thing can be said about today’s senior citizens and computer technology, it is that they refuse to be pigeonholed.
Some are technological savants, while others remain blissfully ignorant of all things World Wide Web.
For Westfield resident Jim Bond, access to the Internet means understanding his grandson’s illness.
“My grandson came down with thyroid cancer, and I knew nothing about it,” he said. “But I looked up information on the computer.”
Still, Bond admitted, he wants to learn more. So he came to PrimeLife Enrichment Monday afternoon for a free tutorial from some of those who know best n teenagers.
Brebeuf High School sophomore Daniel Kent launched a company in summer 2003 — Senior Connects — that pairs tech savvy youth with seniors, usually those in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, who want to learn more about computers. Monday, which Kent convinced the Westfield Town Council to approve as Senior Computer Literacy Awareness Day, Kent and a crew of about a dozen came to PrimeLife for three hours of computer tutorials.
In addition, Senior Connects gave away 50 monitors and 100 CDs with antivirus and spyware protection software.
Bond appreciated the help.
“I don’t think I have the understanding that most people have,” Bond said. “There are times I just get frustrated (with the computer), so I shut it off and go to bed.”
Despite his exasperation, Bond still desires to learn how to operate a computer more efficiently.
His curiosity exemplifies what PrimeLife Enrichment Executive Director Sandy Stewart calls “the new senior.”
“They want to learn, grow, continue to be active and informed,” she said.
Jack Carter ran “TV News Magazine” before he retired, a TV guide for Wabash Valley. Aside from downloading music and general Web-surfing, Carter uses computer programs to edit video.
“It’s more or less a hobby, an interest I share with friends,” he said. “Most of my friends are OK with it. They use it.”
Carter knows not everyone his age is comfortable using computers, however.
“They’re too afraid of them,” he said.
Senior living experts agree: those who refuse to keep up with technology will be left behind.
“I think it’s absolutely essential,” Stewart said. “It’s not possible to live in this society and stay connected without computers. Seniors don’t want to be left out. They want to stay engaged and connected.”
Marcie Buzzelli agreed.
“These people want to know what are all those references to WWWs and e-mail addresses.”
Buzzelli has been teaching computer classes at PrimeLife since 1997. Her class used to have a waiting list 100 names long, but as more seniors become computer literate, the waiting list shrinks.
“That’s my barometer of how senior computer literacy has evolved,” Stewart said.
“The seniors of today are very curious,” Buzzelli said. “They enjoy the Internet as much as the kids do. I only have one friend who won’t touch a computer,” she said. “Everyone else I know wants to learn.”
Stewart said the biggest challenge is the initial intimidation.
“Seniors used to be afraid that they would touch one button and it would blow up,” Buzzelli said. “But now they see that if their 7-year-old grandkid can do it, so can they.”
Carmel High School Sophomore Stephanie Miller agreed. Miller volunteers with Senior Connects.
“They want to learn, they enjoy it,” Miller said. “They start out a little timid, but they get used to it.”
Stewart likened it to her own father’s reluctance to use a new technology several decades ago n the answering machine.
“He certainly didn’t want to talk to a machine,” Stewart said. “It’s just a way of thinking. It’s not better or worse, just different. Anytime you’re introduced to a different culture it’s a little bit difficult.”
The Internet also pacifies a problem afflicting many elderly living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities n loneliness.
“With a computer, nobody’s lonely n you’re connected to the whole world,” Stewart said.
Not only does Web access allow seniors to communicate with family nationwide and worldwide, but they can read news from their hometown, play favorite card games and read obituaries, something Buzzelli said is very important to them.
“This is not the end of life but the beginning of the second half,” Stewart said. “They’re viewing this as a new beginning.”
PrimeLife Enrichment offers several six-week computer classes to any senior resident of Hamilton County. Participants must register one week before the class starts.
For more information on PrimeLife Enrichment, visit the Web site http://www.primelifeenrichment.org or call 815-7000