Modern technology has forever changed how we interact with and understand the world around us. Every day, the importance of technology’s role in our society increases. As gadgets get better and more intertwined in our daily lives, we often forget how frequently we use technology to enhance our day to day living. Whether it’s accessing information and entertainment, learning new things and exploring unfamiliar places, or communicating with loved ones, using technology has become essential to living a full life in today’s digital world.
The nature of technology is to change over time. As it improves, this change happens faster and more frequently, which leaves individuals with limited exposure to new technologies behind. Older adults in particular make up one of the largest demographics that do not fully benefit from the endless possibilities technology can provide. Quite often this is caused by a lack of access to the modern technologies available and unfamiliarity with how to use them.
Recognizing this void in the community, ETAG was founded in 2008 to provide accessible technology assistance to older adults specifically, bridging the digital divide between generations. ETAG’s Technology Enabled Living program focuses on providing technology education and support to seniors living in retirement lifestyle communities. Equipped with a variety of laptop computers, tablets, and WiFi Internet, ETAG’s mobile technology lab and patient instructors help residents plug into the essential, life changing technologies many of us take for granted.
Advocating for Technology for Residents
The ability to learn about technology in the comfort of home is important because it helps illustrate how practical and convenient today’s digital gadgets and Internet tools can be. It also helps seniors recognize the value of using devices like tablets and cell phones in everyday life. For these reasons, it’s important for retirement communities to be advocates for technology and encourage residents to try things like a computer and the Internet, even if they have no previous experience, because of the amazing opportunities these common tools make possible.
To get seniors interested in using technology, there are a few key things a retirement home’s team can do. First, have a variety of technologies available for residents to use. Having a few device options is necessary to accommodate the many types of users there are. For instance, someone who can use a tablet comfortably because of the touch screen might have trouble controlling a mouse on a desktop computer due to an unsteady grip. Creating options for different user types makes for an accommodating and positive experience for learners. There is a technology out there for just about everyone, so having different options available helps learners determine which one if best suited for their needs and interests.
Reduce Unnecessary Barriers to New Learners
It’s also important that the technology made available for residents is not out of date and works properly. As a regular technology user, it can be quite frustrating when your equipment is slow, constantly displays errors, or stops working because an update is required. This negative experience is heightened exponentially when the user is unfamiliar with technology and thinks they personally did something wrong that created the issue in the first place. Although these are common issues with technology in general, they create an unnecessary barrier for new learners to face when first getting started. Having someone responsible for regular maintenance of the technology can eliminate these troubles.
One of the most helpful aspects of ETAG’s TEL program is the one-to-one instruction residents get about how to use technology. Instead of “doing” things for the participant, take the time to talk about technology with each learner, and actually teach them how to do things instead of showing them. The idea is to promote making mistakes to see what happens. With this information, residents gradually learn to not be intimidated by the devices they are using, even when they are trying something new for the first time. Encourage learners not to be worried about breaking something or doing the wrong thing. These “mistakes” are part of learning.
Making the Learning Experience Fun
By making the learning experience fun, new technology users are often more receptive to their first few experiences with a new gadget. Watching YouTube videos of favorite musicians, exploring old neighborhoods and reminiscing, connecting with a family member for a video call, or playing a challenging game are all great ways to make learning about technology a little more fun. Once someone has had several positive experiences using technology, and they feel good about using it, they will be more forgiving when a technology problem occurs, which is inevitable. Making the positive experiences outweigh the negative ones is essential. Don’t get hung up on things not working. Move on, try again, and do your best to finish every technology use experience on a high note.
As recent trends suggest, the integration of new digital technologies into everyday life will only increase moving forward. The current senior demographic plus the aging population will unquestionably require an infrastructure that promotes Internet access and ongoing technology support. Retirement communities are in the position to play a key role in this infrastructure.