For the generations that grew up in the digital age, technology has been relatively easy to adapt to. But for our aging population, who in many ways require online services more than the rest of us, paying bills virtually or video chatting is uncharted and intimidating territory. In comes Cyber-Seniors, a nonprofit organization that works to bridge the digital divide by connecting tech-savvy teens with seniors citizens to teach them key technological skills. Pivoting from providing in-person learning opportunities to online tutorials, the ongoing pandemic has prompted a surge in interest from seniors in acquiring tech skills.
Surging participation since COVID:
With most senior residences being on lockdown and self-isolation making seniors unable to socialize in person, technology quickly became the only means by which they could stay safe and connect with loved ones and friends. Kasha Cassaday, the co-founder of Cyber-Seniors, sees COVID-19 as a wake-up call for many seniors. “We have seen a four-fold increase in the number of seniors who have wanted to sign up for our programs as we have been trying to help them navigate the pandemic.” While some seniors were slow to integrate technology into their lives, COVID has shown the aging population that learning technology is important for their physical health as well as their mental and social wellness. Cassaday even notes how the organization has gotten requests for topics like paying bills and filling prescriptions online, and how to use Amazon —all to help seniors stay safe at home. And with strict public health measures, it is even more difficult for adults to help their aging parents navigate technology on top of the normal struggles that they face as a sandwich generation in getting their parents to be receptive to them.
Nancy Siciliana, the Cyber-Seniors coordinator for the Niagara, Ontario region, noted, “CS has seen requests all over North America and throughout the world, including New Zealand and Iceland. A lot more people are open to the idea than they were.” Our youth mentors have been working with seniors from the ground up, teaching them the absolute basics or giving more in-depth lessons in 3 languages—English, French, and Spanish.
Parenting our parents:
While we are growing up, our parents play a critical role in our lives, but there comes a point where the roles get reversed—with grown children caring for their elderly parents. This might involve regularly checking in on them or bringing them to appointments, but being tech savvy lessens this load for the sandwich generation that is caring for both their children and their parents. At the same time, teaching older adults can be frustrating.
When it becomes frustrating that your parent isn’t grasping a concept, think of your own experience learning to ride a bike. From putting on your helmet, knee pads, and using training wheels, to the key moment when the training wheels came off, your parent was there to hold you steady. With patience, repetition, and encouragement, you were able to start riding on your own and could show off your new skill. It is the same experience for the elderly when learning technology.
Irene, another CS member, brags about her Hawaiian beach Zoom background and her new tech skills.
Amid the times of frustration, seniors and parents must be reminded of the benefits technology has for them both now, and down the road:
- Reducing feelings of Social Isolation—Regular Connection with family and friends via email, text, or video chat can less the affects of loneliness.
- Community involvement—Many clubs and nonprofits help seniors stay in touch with others through planned activities. For example, we offer social outlets to our participants through Community Chats and breakout group sessions. There are countless other online resources like Virtual Bingo or group fitness classes.
- Reducing health risk—With the senior population being one of the most vulnerable to the pandemic, online services like tele-monitoring devices for chronic diseases, fall-detection technologies, tele-consultation tools, and health apps on smart devices, all provide support for managing physical health.
- Entertainment—There are endless online possibilities to keep busy from learning a new recipe on YouTube or taking a virtual tour of a popular tourist destination that can put a smile on anyone’s face.
- Sense of Independence—Instead of relying on family members for necessities such as buying groceries, paying bills, and filling prescriptions, becoming tech savvy allows seniors to do this themselves. Technology has the power to regain some of the freedom that has been lost during this pandemic.
Ian, a Cyber-Seniors member, feels invigorated by technology and loves how it helps keep his mind more alert.
So, the next time your elderly parents ask you what FaceTime is or how long an e-mail takes to process, we must remember all the patience our parents had for us growing up. It is easy for younger generations to view learning technology as straightforward, but for those who didn't grow up in or around the digital age, it takes a lot of adjustment. We recommend using simple language and teaching in small increments instead of flooding your parent(s) with information. Becoming tech savvy involves a gradual process, but there are so many rewards. Fortunately, our aging population can exercise programs like Cyber-Seniors instead of making their kids their personal tech support.
For more information about Cyber-Seniors, visit them around the web and social media: Twitter: @cyberseniors; Instagram: @cyberseniors; Facebook: @CyberSeniorsDocumentary; YouTube: @cyberseniorscorner; Website: cyberseniors.org/