[Paleopsych] Washington Post.com: Surf City, Here She Comes
checker at panix.com
Sun Jan 30 17:06:23 UTC 2005
washingtonpost.com: Surf City, Here She Comes
[Mom, 85 and cheerful, had a letter published by Ann Landers a good many
years ago, saying the elderly need not be lonely, for they can communicate
with everyone with the Internet. She signed it "Cybergrandma."
[A boxed article, "Making the Computer Easier to Use," is appended.]
Surf City, Here She Comes
As Seniors Log On, New Tech Opens Some Quality-of-Life Doors
By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page F01
Sometimes the residents of the Kensington Park Retirement Community in
Kensington don't know quite what to make of Carolyn Layton.
At lunch one recent afternoon, Layton, 74, pulled up in her motorized
chair to her usual table in the dining room. Josette, her regular
lunch companion, was already there, picking the toppings off her
"You should sell the rest of it on eBay," Layton joked.
"What's that?" Josette asked.
"It's an auction," Layton explained.
Layton went back to her grilled cheese and tomato. By now, she's used
to the people around her not always understanding her. But she would
rather be a bit of a misfit than give up her Internet connection --
even if it is dial-up.
Layton uses the motorized chair because of a degenerative spine
ailment. But her mind is agile. Without e-mail and the Internet, her
world would not stretch far beyond the confines of her retirement
home, where the highlight of the day for many is a session of
"Sittercise" or a van ride to Target.
While her peers spend their days sitting in the sunroom downstairs,
Layton reads six daily newspapers online, instant-messages her
grandson in Maine and downloads bits of animation to attach to
Layton thinks her neighbors, some of whom suffer from early
Alzheimer's, would benefit from time spent online.
"Half the people here are bored," she said. Surfing the Internet
"would keep their synapses firing."
Of course, when given the chance, many people use the Internet to
gamble and look at porn, not to better themselves as Layton does. But
this notion that technology is the key to maintaining not only the
health of mature adults -- from the active 65-year-old retiree to the
homebound 80-year-old -- but also their social lives and their minds
is taking hold in boardrooms, research labs and government agencies.
By technology, we're talking about more than defibrillators and
hearing aids. We're talking retirement homes built with high-speed
Internet connections; about souped-up caller ID that not only
identifies who is calling but reminds you of the people you know in
common and the subject of your last conversation. We mean "smart
houses" that tell your daughter how many times you opened the
refrigerator or got up off the sofa during the day, so she can call or
stop by if she thinks something is wrong.
That high-tech companies are even focused on mature adults marks an
industry sea change, said Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist and president
of Age Wave, a San Francisco marketing firm. When the Internet came
along, "it was a party, and older people were not invited," he said.
"All the language, the media, the marketing, Wired magazine, was about
the new, the young, the hip, the cool, the next -- not about Grandma.
To their amazing credit, even though they weren't invited, seniors
began climbing the castle walls and crashing the party."
At first, the folks who made it over the wall didn't bring too many
friends along. In 2000, just 15 percent of people over age 65 used the
Internet, according to Susannah Fox, director of research for the Pew
Internet & American Life Project.
"They were a very elite group. They were white, male, wealthy, very
well educated and more likely to have a computer at home," Fox said.
The demographics of this older group "looked like the Internet in
Today, men and women over 65 surf the Web in equal numbers, a Pew
survey last May and June found. About 22 percent of non-Hispanic white
Americans over age 65 are online, compared with 21 percent of
Hispanics and 11 percent of African Americans. But despite television
commercials showing Grandma happily e-mailing snapshots of the
grandkids to her friends, or guiltily sending off pictures from her
adventure cruise vacation -- taken with her cell-phone camera, of
course -- older Web surfers are still a minority. By comparison, 60
percent of Americans age 50 to 64 go online.
If you've been out of the job force and out of school for the past
dozen years or so, you're not going to have had much exposure at all
to the cyberworld, which went mainstream in that period, says Tom
Tullis, senior vice president of human interface design at Fidelity
That's not to say that older Americans are suffering because they
don't have a Gmail account.
"We have not had a need or an interest in technology and the Internet"
from residents, said Jamison Gosselin, a spokesman for Sunrise Senior
Living, the McLean company that operates more than 340 assisted living
and independent living centers across the country. The residents are
"fine with using the telephone or visiting, doing a lot of things they
enjoyed doing 30 years ago."
At Kensington Park, for instance, Layton's neighbors may not know what
eBay is. But not every Web junkie can create elaborate
three-dimensional tableaux by layering paper cutouts the way Layton's
neighbor Bernice can.
Yet, the prevailing wisdom is that seniors need to keep up with their
younger counterparts or be left behind.
That won't be a problem for long, said Dychtwald, the gerontologist.
And the reason is the coming retirement of the baby boomers.
With each passing day, more people who have indeed been exposed, even
tethered, to the new world and its Web are crossing the threshold from
what Dychtwald calls the land of "no time" to the land of "nothing but
time," once known as retirement, but that in the future will
increasingly include some form of work.
And as the oldest boomers approach 60, the distinction between
youngsters and oldsters and information technology will diminish to
the vanishing point.
Companies such as Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are beginning to
wake up to this reality.
"The migration of the boomers and their enormous demographic heft and
their willingness to spend money on technology is really sending a
wake-up call," Dychtwald said. "The image of older adults listening to
their AM station and not being able to program their VCR, that notion
is fading in the sunset."
"This is a population that has had a longer interaction with
technology -- and an expectation that technology makes life better,"
said Beth Mynatt, lead researcher for the Aware Home initiative at
Georgia Tech. "Technology remade the workplace -- especially computing
technology. If technology does these things for me at work, it should
be doing things for me at home."
But those about to embark on old age who think they're ahead of the
game because they're wired may not yet appreciate what technology
companies have in store for them.
In countries with large aging populations, the future is already here.
In Japan, you can buy a toilet that checks your temperature and tests
your urine and stool, then sends the results to your doctor.
Even in the United States, assisted living facilities are increasingly
installing "granny cams," so relatives can check in on their loved
ones, said Rick Grimes, a spokesman for the Assisted Living Federation
of American, a trade association for operators of assisted living
centers. "Some people put a parent in a home and, for whatever reason,
can't visit for a year. Then they come to visit and are upset that
[their loved one] has deteriorated, Grimes said. The Web cams "allow
them to be part of the aging process."
Sunrise Senior Living already makes use of "wander bracelets" that
allow staff or a family member to keep track of a resident in case he
strays from the premises, Gosselin said.
While computing technology gave people a new way to communicate and
access information, in the future it may help them stay out of an
assisted living or nursing home setting for as long as possible.
Delaying such a move "can make a big economic difference, as well as a
personal one, for older adults," Mynatt said.
In all this giddy excitement about what technology can do to make our
old age more, well, livable, the only voices of criticism so far have
been those of privacy advocates, who want to know where all the
information in our smart houses and wander bracelets will go.
Which brings us to a question: Just whom is this technology for? Do
you really want a computer to register whether you've eaten your bran
flakes today? Or does your adult child who wants to keep an eye on you
without having to leave work?
Aging experts contend that technology can fulfill the needs of both
generations, if not emotionally, then at least in practical ways.
"If the person can continue to live in their home and be in a familiar
environment, it might be worth the trade-off to have someone check in
on you. Is that any different than having your daughter coming over
and opening the fridge? Maybe," said Harvey L. Sterns, a gerontologist
and director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and
Gerontology at the University of Akron. "I think these are really
Faustian bargains. It's about how these are used. We're just beginning
to explore using technology to help older people."
"Sometimes we get carried away. We have a World's Fair
technology-can-solve-all-types-of-things attitude," Mynatt said. "But
if you look at the demographic data, even if you wanted the majority
of support for older adults to come from humans, you don't have the
people. . . . The demographics are working against us for the next few
decades. Technology shouldn't replace people, but there's a grudging
acceptance that we have to look at technology to fill in the gaps."
Layton would certainly prefer to still be on her own. And, not having
a Luddite bone in her body, she would likely be thrilled if technology
could help her maintain her independence.
In fact, if she had her druthers, she said, "I'd have one of
everything -- a cell phone, an iPod."
After all, she was the first person on her block in Wilmington, Del.,
to have an electric screwdriver, her daughter Nancy Caffey recalled.
And in the early 1980s, Layton not only bought an early Atari video
game system complete with the first home edition of Pac-Man, but she
played it so she could teach her grandsons.
Her joystick addiction ended there. In the late 1980s, she booted up
for the first time after her son-in-law, Bethesda attorney Andrew
Caffey, gave her an old computer with the personal finance program
Quicken on it. She was an early Internet surfer. And she bought one of
the first digital cameras.
Layton can spend hours parked in front of the flat-screen monitor of
her Hewlett-Packard desktop computer, which sits on a small desk next
to a twin bed in her small, sunny room filled with plants and artwork.
She types using the few fingers that aren't immobilized by arthritis.
And she uses a virtual magnifying glass that she downloaded from a Web
site to read small type on the screen.
She uses the Internet not only to keep in touch with her grandchildren
but also to keep tabs on them. On a recent morning, she noticed that
her youngest grandson, who lives in Maine, was on AOL Instant
Messenger. It was too early for school to be out, so she typed, "Why R
U home dear one?"
Through the Internet, Layton has befriended people she would not
likely come across in person, such as A. Raffaele Ciriello, an Italian
freelance photojournalist. She sent Ciriello an admiring e-mail and
the two began to correspond about Afghanistan, photography and
Ciriello's newborn daughter, Layton said. In March 2000, Ciriello
returned to Afghanistan and stopped writing. Layton found out later
from the Committee to Protect Journalists that he had been killed
while on assignment covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in
Ramallah. "To think that he took the time to respond, I didn't expect
it," she said.
Not everyone Layton has met on the Internet has been as friendly as
Ciriello. She's tried chat rooms and avoids them. "I got all kinds of
IM messages saying things that were quite shocking," she said.
A couple of years ago, an old high school flame named Gus tracked
Layton down through www.classmates.com. He courted her relentlessly
with e-mails, phone calls and letters. Layton was not interested.
"I told him, 'I'm not the cute little thing I was. I'm a little old
lady with wrinkles and a motorized chair,' " she recalled. "And I wear
a bib!" she added, referring to the swatch of blue terry cloth that
she wears at mealtime to cut down on her dry-cleaning bill.
Gus replied that he didn't care. Eventually, she said, he got the
picture and left her alone.
The experience didn't put her off surfing. Often she is reachable only
through e-mail or instant messaging. Her dial-up Internet connection
ties up her only telephone line. (She'd upgrade to DSL, but a brother
pays for the connection and she doesn't want to be greedy.)
When one of Layton's doctors recently complained that he had a hard
time reaching her by phone, she listened patiently for a few minutes,
then asked, "When are you going to get e-mail?"
Making the Computer Easier to Use
Making the Computer Easier to Use
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page F06
Seniors interested in getting comfortable with the Internet can be
hampered by physical characteristics of computers. A sophisticated
world of "assistive devices" exists, primarily for people with
physical disabilities, and some of these software programs and systems
and devices can cost into the thousands of dollars.
For garden-variety declines in eyesight and dexterity, however, there
are far less expensive enhancements that can mean the difference
between happily engaging with the wired world and not. Listed below
are a few -- some of which are tucked inside the computer's operating
system. Microsoft has lots of how-to information at
And for those who are comfortable searching the Internet for
downloadable software, there are utilities similar to those below that
are free ("freeware") or inexpensive ("shareware").
Larger type: Users of the Outlook Explorer browser can, right within
the Explorer program, enlarge (or decrease) words that appear on Web
sites. On the menu bar at the top of the home page, click on View,
then scroll down and click on Text Size. Choose from five sizes,
Smallest to Largest. But note that only unformatted text will shift in
size. For general Windows use, a quick search under "Help" on the
Start menu will provide more information about other accessibility
Whole screen magnification: BigShot Screen Magnifier 2.1 software by
Ai Squared can enlarge on-screen images up to 200 percent. Works with
Windows XP, ME, 2000, NT4, 95 and 98; it's $99 at
ZoomText 8.1 Magnifier software, also by Ai Squared, can enlarge
on-screen images up to 16 times; also features color, cursor and
pointer enhancers. Works with Windows XP, ME, 2000, NT4 and 98; it's
$395 at www.activeandable.com.
Better light: Dimmed room lights enhance computer-screen brightness
but can obscure the keyboard. The Feather-Touch Keyboard Light sits on
the work surface, its long wand-like fluorescent bulb illuminating the
keys. It's $28 from www.goldviolin.com.
Larger letters and numbers on the keys: Large-print peel-and-stick
vinyl keyboard labels to fit IBM-compatible keyboards, from 20/20
Type, are $9.95 from www.goldviolin.com. A sheet of large labels
from the Key Connection (black on ivory, black on yellow or white on
black) is $24.95 at www.customkeys.com.
Oversize cursors: Biggy software, by RJ Cooper & Associates, provides
a choice of double-size, playful, ultra-visible cursors and pointers
(including the Windows hourglass and the Mac watch face) for all
programs. Works with all Windows editions, also Macintosh OS X, OS 9
and earlier; it's $109 at rjcooper.com/biggy.
Large-print keyboard: VisiKey keyboards, some designed specifically
for Net surfing, are $59 to $99 at www.atestore.enablemart.com.
Larger trackballs: BIGtrack says that, at three inches across, it's
the largest trackball available, requiring less fine motor control
than the standard. Works with Windows; it's $75 from
www.atestore.enablemart.com. (Can be bought at this site in
combination with BigKeys Plus keyboard, below.)
Oversize keyboard/keyboard keys: BigKeys Plus is a standard-size,
simplified keyboard with one-inch-square, colorful keys. Available as
a traditional QWERTY or ABC layout. For Windows, it's compatible with
286, 386, 486 and Pentium processors; Mac-compatible with a USB
adapter. All versions are $159, or $180 in combination with BIGtrack
trackball (above) at www.atestore.enablemart.com. Similar BigKeys
LX keyboard is $149 at www.activeandable.com.
Key modifications: In the Windows Control Panel, click on
Accessibility Options, where there are ways to modify the contrast,
sound and even use of keys. Enabling StickyKeys allows the user to
perform functions requiring Shift, Ctrl or Alt in tandem with another
key by pressing one key at a time. Enabling ToggleKeys produces a tone
when hitting Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock.
-- Nancy McKeon
More information about the paleopsych