Sunday, November 25, 2012

Digital transitions: The elderly and technology

My dad's portable computer

When I consider the elderly and technology, I think of my own father. Dad was involved with computers when computers did very little. He put some of his own together. He once used a large wooden folding table and converted it into a "computer desk" where the "guts" of the system were all configured inside the desk. I can still remember dragging the piece down from the attic a number of years ago when my mom finally put her foot down and made my father trash the old technology he was not using anymore.

Dad had one of the first Apple Macintosh computers in the area. When portable computers were still more of a dream than a reality, dad was placing his smaller Apple computer in a carrying case with a dot matrix printer so he could travel with it to Toronto to do consulting work.

For years he did programming, creating software for local businesses and companies that needed custom-based databases for tracking different things. He worked with trucking companies, convenience stores, and pulp and paper mills. Back in the 90s I remember going on a conference with him when Microsoft was unveiling some new software. I went in my capacity as a sales rep since, at the time, I worked for a local computer retailer. Dad went as a programmer. I remember looking around during the conference and noting that a lot of the people there were younger than me, and dad was the only grey hair head in the room.

Up until July 2011 dad was still doing consulting and programming for local businesses. He was 77 years old. In July of that year he suffered a serious stroke. Thankfully, his recovery went well. However, the next year my family lost our mom and my father lost his life-long companion of over fifty years. We worried about dad's recovery, and what he would do to fill his time since we knew he would probably never use computers again.

Dad's stroke left him partially blind and his short term memory is hit and miss. While he still likes to talk about his days using computers, his desire to even attempt using one is gone. However, he has a trusty CD player companion, compliments of CNIB, that he uses to listen to documentaries, lectures, news and audio books. Dad has used an iPad for FaceTime, and my sisters and I discussed setting one up for him. We soon realized, however, that while we would see the benefit of it, dad finds it much easier to have his CDs provided to him where he can play them in a unit that has basic buttons he can remember how to use.

So my father transitioned from firing up at least one computer everyday to having very little desire to even turning one on again. He certainly appreciates thing like Facetime, but his capacity for remembering how to use it is not there, and he knows that and accepts it. I only hope when (and if) I am his age, I can be as accepting of whatever life throws at me.

Nursing home residents use FaceTime to stay in touch with family
On another note related to the elderly, my friend was telling me about a student he knows who is working at a local nursing home on a school co-op. She realized a lot of the residents had family who lived away. So she contacted some of the families and arranged Facetime sessions on her iPhone between the residents and their families. It has been a big hit and residents look forward to chatting on Facetime with their families.

Call me maybe?
And, finally, some of you might have seen or heard of the resident home in Ontario where, with the help of the recreation coordinator, the residents did their own rendition of "Call Me Maybe." I provided a link here if you want to check it out. Or check out the embedded video below: