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AGING WELL: Keep faith with seniors in learning technology Missy Buchanan, Oct 26, 2011
By Missy Buchanan UMR Columnist
Every time I see older adults stop to answer their cell phones while pushing their walkers, I have to smile. It reminds me that we live in a strangely wonderful world in which aging and fast-paced technology peacefully coexist at times.
Just last week I watched an 84-year-old woman teaching her tablemate how to text a grandson. At another senior residence, an 86-year-old man proudly showed off his new iPad. I applaud older adults everywhere who are striving to keep up with fast-changing technological advances because I know for a fact it’s not easy.
Recently I was setting up a PowerPoint slide-show presentation for an older adult retreat where I was keynoting. Though I had requested the appropriate cord and speakers, neither was with the projector when I arrived. Instead of a screen, there was a large piece of white cardboard with several nails in the center, causing the images of my presentation to be distorted.
Immediately, two older participants jumped in to help me. One went on a mission to find an appropriate computer-to-projector cord. After locating it in another room, he went about improving the screen situation. He found a super-sized poster with a blank backside and propped it up on a table against the nailed version. The other man darted to his RV and retrieved his own speakers. In just a matter of minutes, he had them hooked up to my computer. Problems solved.
The point is, I find older adults to be wonderfully resourceful. Most are willing to learn and do new things, especially when given enough time and respect. Regrettably, they are often given neither.
Over the summer, I led an older adult workshop in which I asked participants to list ways in which they feel out-of-step with the world. One man on the back row raised his hand and meekly told about an embarrassing situation. He went into a big-box store and asked the clerk to point him to the aisle with the typewriter paper. The older man said the young clerk looked at him as if he were an alien, then laughed and made a snarky comment about no one using typewriters any more. He said he felt like he had “dummy” stamped on his forehead.
It was a simple slip of the tongue, not even a mistake, especially to those of us raised in the days of manual typewriters. It’s little wonder that this older adult came away from the experience feeling inadequate and behind-the-times. It made me wonder if we, as the body of Christ, consider how much our words, body language and behavior impact the willingness of older adults to risk learning something new.
Not long ago, I hired a college freshman to help me with a computer project. I told him that I would like to learn from him as he went along. He whizzed through each step, clicking on this tab then the next, as if the process was as natural as breathing. Every time I asked a question, he gave a polite half-smile, trying his best to be patient and offer an explanation. By the time he finished just 15 minutes later, I was exhausted from the pace and the unfamiliarity of it all.
I consider myself fairly computer-literate, but the episode was just one of many insecure moments I’ve experienced in learning to deal with changes in technology. In fact, when someone starts talking in lofty computer lingo, I can feel myself getting tense.
Like most people, older adults are not likely to risk learning something new if they feel rushed or mocked or inadequate. It’s a good reminder to all of us to slow down when we are trying to teach a new skill.
Allow for more time and repetition to help an older adult feel comfortable with a new task. Keep your sense of humor and watch your body language, too. Rolling eyes and under-your-breath remarks can cause an older adult to feel wounded.
Bottom line, instead of making fun of older adults for being woefully behind-the-times, give them a word of encouragement. You may be surprised to see just how smart they are!
Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of several books, including Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer (Upper Room Books). Reach her at: email@example.com.