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Successful Aging: How to find entry points in adding technology

Q I bought my 80-year-old mother a new iPad. She opened the box, threw up her hands and said, “I can’t do that.” What can I do to help her learn the new technology?” My tech savvy 30-year-old daughter volunteered to teach her. Any advice how my daughter can be most effective?

— B.K.

A Dear B.K.:

To provide tips for effective tech mentoring, let’s begin by understanding some of the reasons for resistance. Opposition to technology is not a new story, according to Calestous Juma, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. In his book “Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies” (Oxford University Press. 2016), Juma refers to 600 years of technological controversies ranging from attacks on coffee, the printing press and margarine to debates on the potential impact of alternative intelligence, drones and 3-D printing.

He notes that society supports technology when it is perceived as an addition to our lives, embracing our desire for inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature. If technology diminishes an aspect of our humanity, he notes there is resistance.

That resistance filters down to individuals and in particular older adults. Here are some barriers as suggested by librarian and writer Renate Robey in a guide for librarians in how to teach technology:

Lack of perceived benefit or need: To be motivated to learn the new technology, older adults need to understand exactly what the benefit will be. Such benefits include being part of a grandchild’s life, keeping up with family happenings, playing online games or researching family history.

Negative feelings about social media: Older adults may be frustrated and annoyed that communication has drastically changed from making phone calls and personal visits to email, tweets and Skype. Fearful about internet safety: A deep mistrust of placing personal information on a computer is another barrier. The concern is real and is called internet fraud. Pop-up browser windows that simulate virus-scanning software can fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a cost) or an actual virus that opens up information on the user’s computer to scammers.

Computer anxiety: Fearful of breaking the computer or making a mistake can easily lead to computer anxiety. Many older adults were brought up in a school environment where the initial answer to a question had to be correct and making mistakes resulted in a lower grade.

Cognitive or physical issues: Normal changes with age can present learning obstacles. Declines in vision, memory, dexterity and mobility may make it difficult to perform simple tasks like handling a mouse. Ability to read is key. Yet, about two in five older adults indicate they have a physical or health condition that makes reading difficult, according to the Pew Research Center.

B.K, since your daughter volunteered to be your mother’s personal tutor, here’s a draft of a possible script that addresses some of the barriers.

Daughter: “Hi, Grandma. I know you want to stay in touch with me, but I live 3,000 miles away. I have a way for us to be part of each other’s lives. Let’s begin with the new iPad you received as a gift for starters and learn about email. I will set it up for you. Note that doesn’t mean we can’t talk on the phone. Using email will just make us closer. Know that you cannot break the computer and there are no permanent mistakes. If you misspell a word, it can be corrected. We are using a touch screen so you don’t have to deal with a mouse. And remember, there is no rush. I am going to write down all of the instructions. We’ll use the instructions as I demonstrate the process and for practice we’ll write lots of emails together. After I leave, you can always contact me or Mom when you see something on the screen you don’t understand. You have my email address and phone number.

“When you are comfortable with email, we can learn about Skype where we actually can see one another and talk. You’ll love it. Actually, if you like, we can start with Skype. Grandma, I love you.”

Hopefully “Grandma” is relaxed with a pace that is comfortable for her and with practice, time, repetition and reaping the rewards of staying in touch with her granddaughter, she’ll become tech savvy.

Thanks, B.K., for your good question. At some point in our tech world, we all are learners. Note: Most of our communities have classes on technology for older adults.

For more information, go to; also see for previous columns.

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