Seniors plug into new forms of technology

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WASHINGTON - Although stereotypically labeled as late subscribers to new forms of technology, many older adults have become interested in adapting to an increasingly digital world.

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, six in 10 seniors age 65 and olders now go online, and 47 percent say that they have a high-speed broadband connection at home. In addition, 77 percent of older adults currently have a cellphone.

While many seniors are making technological strides, the study also demonstrates that Internet and cell phone use greatly depend on a person's current financial status, educational attainment and age.

Some 68 percent of Americans in their early 70s go online regularly, but Internet use falls to 47 percent among 75-79 year olds.

In addition, affluent and well-educated seniors are more likely to use technological tools. Ninety percent of seniors with an annual household income of $75,000 or more go online regularly, and 87 percent of seniors with a college degree enjoy surfing the Web. In contrast, only 39 percent of seniors earning less than $30,000 annually go online, and 40 percent of seniors who have not attended college use the Internet.

Although older adults face a number of hurdles as they try to adapt to new technologies, Catholic seniors seem particularly interested in keeping up with the tweets of Pope Francis and maintaining contact with distant relatives through texting.

While some seniors allow technical tools to become an integral part of their daily lives, many choose to avoid the Internet and cellphones because they are fearful they will not be able to use them on their own. These types of fears fueled Catholic Charities of Hawaii to develop a beginner's iPad class to help seniors learn how to use the product.

Dianne Lim, program coordinator at Catholic Charities' Lanakila Senior Center in Honolulu, said the class came about because "some of the more 'tech-savvy' seniors at the senior center expressed an interest in learning more about what an iPad has to offer, and a couple had received one as a gift from their children but did not know how to operate it."

She said she asked the seniors who already owned an iPad what they were using it for and found out they were mostly using it for games. "I wanted to show them just how powerful a tool they had at their fingertips," she told Catholic News Service.

Although the class is mainly focused on the iPad, Lim explained that the instructor accepts questions about all forms of technology during monthly meetings and also has helped seniors learn more about smartphones and computers.

"It's fun to watch their eyes light up when they learn something cool and new they didn't know they could do before on their devices," Lim said. "The class truly promotes the dignity of our seniors by expanding the range of what they can do with the technology that is in front of them. The seniors like the fact that they receive easy, step-by-step lessons and leave the class feeling like they have learned a lot."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015