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Technology helping seniors stay connected

Avery Schneider/WBFO News

Technology is helping seniors connect to the world. It’s impacting the way they live their lives and how they communicate with loved ones. According to AARP, growing numbers of seniors are welcoming new technologies, as WBFO Seniors News Desk reporter Sandy White found out.

Technology is talking, listening and waiting to answer your questions, turn on the lights, pay your bills, find you a restaurant, turn down the thermostat and even tell you a joke.

"How did the telephone propose to his girlfriend? He gave her a ring.”

If you think the new digital frontier is intimidating seniors, think again. According to the Pew Research Center, younger seniors are keeping pace with the under 65 group. 

“I like it that I can go on Facebook and I can Google and If I’m lost, I can go on Mapquest,” said 65-year-old Sandra Barth.

Randy Hoak, Associate State Director of AARP of New York, says he has noticed in recent years seniors steadily embrace technology.

“I think we see the most activity with smartphones, laptops, desktops tablets in the 50-65 age group, but with certainly a lot of  adoption in the 60-70 age group. Once you get over 70, you see a dropoff.”

We took a quick poll of the over-75 crowd at an active card game at the Kenmore Community Center.

“We have none of those new devices because we talk together at the senior center. So you don’t need the technology, not at all,” said one senior.

But that’s not the case for 73-year-old Hamburg retiree James Connolly, who prefers a world with technology. He even tweets. 

“It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It keeps us so connected to people that maybe you wouldn’t have been so much,” Connolly said.  

The father of four children and 12 grandchildren threw away his flip phone when he realized he could get broader news sources quickly, reach out to his son in London on Facetime and connect with friends.

“On the average day, I get up in the morning, probably in the first 15-20 minutes, I’ll take a look at what’s on there and scan my email and see if someone tried to get me.”  

Kay Sysomboune

Seniors are surfing the web, using tablets, sending texts, using Facetime, getting news, playing games and watching video. Within this growing group, the most educated and affluent are using not just one, but many technologies, and enjoying it.

“It seems so futuristic, that people would be chatting over video across great distances. But here it is and the seniors love it,” said Hoak.

“We just turn on the phone, the Facetime," said Kay Sysomboune, a retired restaurateur who remains active at her family business, Taste of Siam on Elmwood Avenue. "We talk from Laos, from France, from Chicago, from Texas, from New Zealand, everywhere. I’m so happy.”

The seniors we talked to say technology reinforces family ties through celebrations, holidays, birthdays and allows them to stay connected to family and friends as they age.

To keep the greatest generation up to date with technology, AARP partners with Microsoft store in the Walden Galleria and provides  a series of classes for seniors to alert them to online scams. Hoak says AARP also reaches out to its membership through webinars so they are up to date on all issues and topics that affect the senior population.

Learning technology with grandma and grandpa can also be fun, says Tanya Staples, Director of Community Schools at Say Yes Buffalo. A successful intergenerational technology pilot program will now continue and expand this year.

“I heard a funny story the other day from one of the kids who said, 'I taught my grandma how to text and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing because she is texting me all the time!'”

No, grandma has not gone gadget crazy. But technology is providing a service for seniors. And those home assistance devices?

"My name is Alexa. I am an Amazon Echo designed around your voice. I can provide information on news, weather and sports."

Expect this technology to be even more popular in the future as they help caregivers living out of town monitor their loved ones from miles away. For now, retiree James Connolly says he doesn’t need the Alexa home device. He prefers to keep it in a box.

"I didn’t plug her in yet. I still talk to my wife Pat instead of Alexa,” said Connolly.