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What seniors need that young people can give

Based on our limited experience as two people growing old, and our conversations with others of our age group, we have issues that are not being met even if we have the money. Using a computer can bring us to tears of rage and shame. Geek Squad, iYogi, and free online resources often use words that seem English but have some other meaning. They tell us something is on the screen, but it may not be visible on our computer. We need someone right next to us, not someone on a phone or on the screen. Also, we often have to do certain exercises for our health, but forget or don't feel like it. Having "personal trainers" to come by regularly and drag us out for a walk, or make sure we do our movements correctly, could actually save lives.

Photo of Joan Penzenstadler
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I'm not in a position to do organized research on these and other needs, but someone could easily get data from any group of seniors that meets, but they would also need to talk to people who don't get out.  My point is that these issues are not limited to poor people; there's a lot of other people who aren't getting real humans in their lives to help deal with their stress.   The younger "mentor" would not merely be serving an important need, but would also learn how to explain technology better to non-techies, or, in the case of the personal trainers, learn a lot about various physical problems and the appropriate therapies.  Definitely there would be growth in social skills and friendship on both sides.

The question for me is how many young people would see this type of service as dignified, and how many older people would keep it from becoming a master-servant relationship.  


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Photo of Anja Kantowsky

Thank you for your post. I can only stress the digital literacy needs of the elderly. My father - a retired university prof - regularly feels literally humilated by his inability to "correctly" use digital forms, tools etc.
My mother died some months ago and he loves to write letters and correspond with people. Social media would be a great means to get him back into the world. Even though we call each other daily, the issues he has with his CPU are so basic that they can only be solved in person.
Also he is afraid "something gets broken" so one has to really go through the process together with him.
I am planning to get him sth. that's easier to handle (e.g. an iPad). Am planning to connect him (so far no wifi in his house etc.) when I'm visiting for 3 weeks in the summer.
Bottom line: the young are digital literate, most of them naturally navigate, interact and contribute to social media. That's something they can do as a mentor for the elderly. Once unlocked, the young will be amazed what the elder can share.

Photo of Meena Kadri

So great to have you join us on this challenge, Joan – especially with such rich insights. You raise an important issue which is already becoming a resonant point in our early discussions – around 'enabling' as opposed to a top-down approaches. We do hope you'll continue to join in on various conversations with your valuable perspectives.

As a side-line which you might enjoy – my mother (in her 80's) joins in on OpenIDEO from time to time. She needs help with posting stuff (like this: from our previous Healthy Ageing Challenge) so we go through the process together over the phone – as she lives in a different city. I really have to slow down to help her out – but I learn a lot along the way about her digital literacy needs (and potentially the needs of some of our other community members at OpenIDEO as well) It's certainly a rewarding experience for both of us. Though when I hear how often she and other friends get stuck on other digital tasks, I find myself wondering whether regular, face-to-face help from a trusted source could be of use to all of them.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Joan, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story with higher impact. You should be able to use the Update Entry button on the right of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. We know occasionally people have issues uploading images so let us know by hitting the Feedback button at the bottom of most pages of our site if you face any problems. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

And here's more handy tips on the Research phase:

Photo of Angshuman Mishra

Interesting & a very important point to be considered. Thank you Joan! We have to acknowledge the limitation posed by technology and that there is no substitute for physical presence. Social Media can be vital in closing gaps between generations, if we can ascertain what works to be beneficial for both parties. :)