Seniors close digital divide

April 10, 2012
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Residents interact with their tablet computers during the Community of the Future pilot. Photo courtesy of Connected Living
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Story by Michelle Harper

Although technology usage among all generations has certainly grown in the past decade, studies still show that fewer than half (42 percent) of the 40.8 million Americans age 65 and older go online. Despite the benefits of technology for communicating, information or entertainment, many seniors haven’t been given the access or training they need to stay connected and be part of the conversation.

And they can expect consequences to being disconnected, which include social isolation and diminished access to cultural resources.

This was certainly not the case recently for 30 seniors at The Heritage of Des Plaines, Ill., a Brookdale Senior Living community, who took part in the “Community of the Future” pilot project through Connected Living and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Connected Living and HP combined their hardware and software solutions with training and support programs for the residents, now deemed “Team Slaters” in reference to the HP Slate tablet computers that have helped them “cross the digital divide.”

Connected Living is a Massachusetts-based company that provides technology, support and programming to senior living facilities. HP’s digital signage displays, PCs and printers form the backbone of technological components to Connected Living’s computer lounges—like the one at The Heritage of Des Plaines.  

Increased Optimism

After implementing “Community of the Future,” computer log-ins leaped from zero to 4,000 over the pilot’s first three months. Initial results of the pilot showed the seniors with increases in optimism, life satisfaction and computer mastery after using the tablets.

For many seniors, the most unnatural aspect of computing is operating the mouse and keyboard. The Connected Living operating system for the HP tablets instead offers an interface with large buttons that direct residents to mail, photos, a digital library and games.

During the pilot, seniors used their tablet computers to take pictures, listen to music, keep up with the news and communicate long distance with loved ones. One woman who’d lost her beloved husband of 43 years talked about the healing power of raising self-esteem, helping one another learn and participate in life as productive members of a community.

Celebrating ‘Team Slaters’

To wrap up the Community of the Future program, Connected Living and HP celebrated the accomplishments of Team Slaters with a “Back to the Future”-themed event. Each participant was recognized and presented with a gift bag.

After being congratulated, the residents were told to reach under their chairs and had been surprised with a gift certificate awarding each with their own tablets, complete with matching cases and keyboards.

As touch technology continues to develop, Connected Living hopes to expand the use of tablets in other senior facilities across the country to help connect them with family and friends.

Michelle Harper is Healthcare Business Development Manager at Hewlett-Packard. She can be reached at michelle.harper@hp.com.