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Smartphones, tablets, computers put the whole world in your hands
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Smartphones, tablets, computers put the whole world in your hands

Being computer literate isn’t just beneficial these days, it’s almost a necessity. Between bill paying, accessing medical information, ordering curbside pickup and visiting the doctor virtually, being comfortable with technology can make a lot of parts of life much easier.

Learning the basics

It can be intimidating for those of earlier generations who didn’t grow up using computers to become comfortable with tablets, smart phones and apps, but with an open mind and a willingness to learn can open the world n so many ways.

Jackie Calarie, resident life director with Wittenberg Village in Crown Point, works on technology with residents all across the spectrum from independent to assisted living to rehab to memory care. Some individuals have their own devices and are very tech savvy and some are scared to even put their finger near a touch screen.

She said Wittenberg Village  uses a program called “It’s Never Too Late” (iN2L) to help seniors adapt to technology.

“It’s kind of like a giant iPad with a bunch of apps that pertain to seniors. They can play games like 'Wheel of Fortune' or casino games and there are travelogues on there where they can do a tour of the Louvre or go on an African safari,” she said. “It allows us to show them that they can do more than bingo or crosswords, and it broadens our programming.”

The system is on a cart that can be rolled from room to room, and the facility  also has Chromebooks acquired through a grant that can be used in resident rooms. “Sometimes even with basic knowledge, some are still intimated,” said Calarie. “If they have a willingness to learn, it gets them more interested.”

Tools and resources

“Computer literacy is important for seniors because it enables them to function in the 21st Century without guidance,” said Brittany Taylor, owner of I Tech Teach You, technology consultant and senior instructor at Indiana University Northwest. “For example, most everything is technologically based, from paying rent and utilities to ordering food. With the literacy of computers, seniors would be able to independently do all those things without waiting for their children or grandchildren to come over and help.”

However, grandkids can be your best tool if they are willing to spend the time time to teach rather than just doing it themselves.

“I find grandkids can be a much better help to their grandparents by actually showing them instead of doing it for them,” said Taylor. “Oftentimes, I sit with clients, and their grandkids have changed the Wi-Fi settings and never wrote it anywhere for the grandparents to retrieve. I believe grandkids being patient and taking their time with their grandparents can make a world of difference in the technology gap.”

Calarie said Wittenberg Village has found that the large screen of the iN2L system can be more senior-friendly than something smaller. The touchscreen also encourages interaction, whether it’s to play a game like "Deal or No Deal" or search for other applications that interest them.

“I find it best for seniors to use a tablet/iPad as their method of technology,” said Smith. “It has the larger screen and touch screen abilities, which make it easier for seniors to maneuver. Also, having the app capability makes it easier, instead of them having to search the Internet for what they’re looking for."

The rapid advance of voice technology widens access to someone with vision challenges or dexterity issues that limit mouse or touch screen use. It opens the doors to an immense amount of information by calling out to Siri or Alexa with a request.

Amanda Smith, assistant director of the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence at Indiana University Northwest, suggests finding some training locally to get more acquainted with electronic devices and what you can do with them.

“The Senior University program at IU Northwest offers free workshops to people ages 55 and better in a variety of areas, including computers and technology,” said Smith. “Currently open for enrollment is the online, self-paced tutorial Computers I: The Basics and Beyond.” Senior University also offers sessions on smartphones and virtual calls.

Those interested can learn more by calling 219-980-6907, emailing curesu@iun.edu, or visiting the Senior University website: go.iu.edu/3HEN (use capitalization as shown when typing the url).

Many local libraries offer free classes, as well, or their staffs can point you in the right direction. Also, check with local schools and municipalities to see whether they offer programming or lend devices.

And when doing anything on a computer, Google can be a form of tutor in itself. If you can use a keyboard and mouse and have an inkling of what you want, you’ll discover that you have so much information waiting for you. Simply visit google.com and put your topic in the search bar. You can find  recipes, the weather forecast, the score of the game, video instructions on anything you’d want to learn, information on historical events, news updates and much more.

Communicating

So many changes in technology have helped us survive and thrive in the last year. Two years ago, who would have imagined how much of the workforce would be conducting business via Zoom or that students would be attending  classes that way? Technology also let's doctors make house calls virtually. 

“Obviously this past year, technology has really helped connect residents with their loved ones, They’ve been able to to Skype or FaceTime,” said Calarie of Wittenberg Village. “It’s been an outlet for both sides of the family to see each other and connect.”

During much of the pandemic video conferencing was the only face-to-face contact for many. Calarie said it remains popular even as visiting restrictions are starting to ease.

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