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Technology Helps Seniors Stay in Touch with Loved Ones

Today’s technology gives independent-living seniors and their families and friends a growing array of easy, convenient ways to stay connected, across the country or across town.

Of course, there’s still the tried and true Canadian mail. Although it’s been stamped with the moniker “snail mail,” it’s still an easy, efficient, inexpensive way to send birthday cards, photographs, newspaper clippings and short notes to update family and friends.

Seniors: Communicate with family by email

However, today’s seniors are becoming more comfortable around computers and appreciate the immediacy of e-mail and the Internet.

According to Stats Canada, seniors are the fastest growing group of users of the Internet. Email was the most common use of the Internet by seniors with 9 in 10 Internet users taking advantage of it.

For those not yet at ease with going online, alternative technologies simplify computer functions to just the basics needed to exchange messages with loved ones.

Here are a few examples:

  • PawPawMail – This e-mail system (www.PawPawMail.com), which uses a standard computer, was designed to protect seniors from Internet spam and scams. It accepts only messages from family and friends whose e-mail addresses have been entered (usually by a senior’s family caregiver) into a directory. The caregiver can check blocked messages to allow acceptable messages to go through. The system also includes a photo album to which family members and friends can contribute.
  • Celery – Without an Internet connection, this service (www.mycelery.com) turns any fax machine into an e-mail device. The fax machine, which shares a home’s single phone line, receives e-mail messages, including attachments such as photos, and automatically prints them in color. The senior can send out messages, including handwritten letters, just like a regular fax, but the messages go into the recipients’ e-mail inboxes.
  • Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart. – This computer system includes a wireless keyboard and mouse, but it features a touch-sensitive monitor that simplifies operation for those less confident on conventional computers.

Still largely the domain of Generations X and Y, social networking on Internet sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, is increasingly becoming a cross-generational experience. More grandparents are logging on to keep up with their grandkids. Facebook’s fastest growing demographic is women over 55, with nearly 1.5 million active each month.

Seniors: Use Telephones to Keep in Touch

Of course, most everyone appreciates the instant convenience of two-way communication through landline and mobile telephones. With so many options to choose from—many with free minutes, free long distance and money-saving family plans—telephones can be an economical option. Some phones are designed especially for ease of use by seniors, with larger displays and keypads and other features.

SafetyChoice® by Comfort Keepers (www.comfortkeepers.com) offers a GPS Personal Location Device—the size of a cell phone—that offers peace of mind with state-of-the-art global tracking technology. It enables lost seniors to be located. And the unit includes a two-way communication feature allowing the senior to speak with SafetyChoice’s professionally trained staff, who immediately send help.

Video conferencing, which enables Jetsons-like two-way video and audio communication, is becoming easier to set up as more computers come equipped with speakers, microphones and Web cams. Through video conferencing, adult children can not only hear but also see how their parents are doing.

A variety of software facilitates online video conferencing, such as Skype (www.skype.com), which allows users to make free video and voice calls over the Internet as well as make discounted calls to landline and mobile phones.

Helping Seniors to Get Online

We’re not all tech savvy. And let’s face it, technology seems to change by the minute. But there are plenty of resources to call on to help you understand and set up the latest communications technology in your or your loved one’s home:

  • Electronics stores—The larger chains offer installation and tech support for hire.
  • Local organizations—Libraries and senior centers offer classes, from basic computer and Internet use to more detailed instruction on specific computer programs. Some organizations even offer volunteers who provide tech support.
  • Family and friends—Seniors often find that their grandchildren, who have grown up on technology, are an excellent source of help. In minutes they’ll have your e-mail account set up and your cell phone ringing your favorite tune and loaded with all your contacts.

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