Uncomfortable with tech, many are struggling to use modern tools to keep up with friends and family in the pandemic.
For more than a week, Linda Quinn, 81, has isolated herself inside her Bellevue home to keep away from the coronavirus. To ease the solitude, Ms. Quinn’s daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons wanted to hold video chats with her through Zoom. Making plans to call and talk her by installing the app on her computer. Five minutes before the scheduled chat, Ms. Quinn realized she had not used her computer in about four months and could not remember the password. Panicked, she called her 20-year-old grandson who had set up the computer for her, and luckily he had the password.
As life has increasingly moved online during the pandemic, an older generation that grew up in an analog era is facing a digital divide. Often unfamiliar or uncomfortable with apps, gadgets and the internet, many are struggling to keep up with friends and family through digital tools.
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While teenagers are celebrating birthdays over Zoom with one another, children are chatting with friends over online games and young adults are ordering food via delivery apps, many older people are intimidated and even paralyzed by digital technology.
According to a 2017 Pew Research study, three-quarters of those older than 65 said they needed someone else to set up their electronic devices. A third also said they were only a little or not at all confident in their ability to use electronics and to navigate the web.
That is problematic when many people 65 and older, who are regarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as most at risk of severe illness related to the coronavirus, continue to be isolated.
To bridge that digital gap, families are finding new apps and gadgets that are easy for older relatives to use. Companies and community members are setting up phone calls and online workshops to help those uncomfortable with tech, to walk them through the basics.
Officials are also calling for people to pitch in to close the divide. If you have an elderly neighbor or family member who might have trouble with their laptop or their phone, make yourself available to help.
In nursing homes that have limited visitors from coming, workers are leaning on tech to help residents stay connected with their families. Some nursing facilities are even using virtual activities like Nintendo’s Wii bowling and SingFit, a music singalong program, to help seniors pass the time and stay active.
Candoo, a New York company that helps older people navigate technology, has recently taught its customers how to use Zoom and other video calling apps with downloadable guides and phone calls and, in some cases, by taking over their screens and showing them where to click.
“People are literally relying on technology, not only to keep them healthy and safe and alive, but also to keep them occupied,” said Liz Hamburg, founder of Candoo.
Jane Cohn, 84, who lives alone in New York, has paid for Candoo’s services to help her get connected. Typically active, she has been staying inside because of the virus outbreak. Her doctor’s check-in went virtual, while her therapy session and New York University class on architecture and urbanism moved to Zoom.
Some people are finding easy-to-use tech to connect generations. Medbh Hillyard recently introduced an electronic speaker called a Toniebox to connect her parents during quarantine.
Tech-savvy older people have found themselves in great demand, fielding calls from friends and neighbors who need digital help. Last week, he spent several hours using remote access to the devices of his homeowner association board to help members, who range in age from about 65 to 85, figure out how to attend a virtual meeting.
In this time of great uncertainty, everyone wants to make sure that every moment counts. If you have a loved one who could use assistance with utilizing digital devices, apps, or software to communicate, or to get assistance. Now is the time to reach out and assist in any way you can.
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