National Day of Civic “Hacking”

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Our group of volunteers has been working today as part of the “National Day of Civic Hacking“.

This kind of “hacking” isn’t breaking in. Instead, it is putting together resources (data, people, ideas), to help our community.

We would love to hear about your experience/ideas regarding seniors and technology, barriers to technology adoption, seniors and social isolation and/or loneliness, seniors and medical monitoring devices.

What do you see in your community of family, friends, neighbors?

Announcing: Generous grant support from the Healthcare Initiative Foundation

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We are very pleased to announce that we’ve received a grant from the Healthcare Initiative Foundation for our work in Montgomery County, Maryland. This grant will help with a senior-centric project in our community over the coming year.

The Healthcare Initiative Foundation supports organizations that offer solutions to improve the quality and delivery of healthcare for residents of Montgomery County, MD.

Technology to help address loneliness and social isolation

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We hear so much in the news about “social networks” that we may forget how many of our seniors are not very well connected.  I don’t mean by that that they aren’t on Facebook or WooHoo (I made the WooHoo one up, though it might be trademarked somewhere 🙂 ), but that they don’t have a circle of family or community, or even neighbors.

There are many studies demonstrating the ill effects of loneliness and social isolation with older adults.  This report from the AARP Foundation helps describe the issues (it is a in depth report, but the executive summary says a lot in itself):

A Profile of Social Connectedness in Older Adults

We are hoping to explore the use of personal technology consulting, and assistive devices to bring isolated seniors into communities – whether they are local communities (such as where they live) or their family community, or virtual communities where they find like-minded, or different-minded, souls for conversation/discourse.

Would love to hear comments from your experiences with friends or family.

 

Voice Controlled Speakers

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I have been auditioning a small “voice controlled speaker” for several months.  To say it is a “speaker” is a misnomer. It connects to your WiFi, responds to your voice, and replies with information it finds on the web based on what you say.  Mine is a small one from Amazon called the “echo dot”.   I purchased one during a holiday promotion for $29.99 (the price fluctuates and today is running $49.99 for a newer model).   I gave that one to my nephew, who has symptoms resembling autism, and speech difficulties. He fell in love with the gadget, and got it talking about all kinds of things.

So… I’ve been testing my own now for several months, and it’s far more useful than I would’ve thought.  The voice recognition works very well.  I say “Alexa [that’s apparently her name], play WAMU radio”, and she starts playing.  I say “Alexa, stop.”,  and the speaker stops.  I say “Alexa, what is the weather for today?”,  and she gives a brief forecast for my neighborhood.  I say “Alexa, what is the weather in Paris?”, and she knows that too.  “Alexa, what it the distance between here and Boston?” (393 miles), or “Alexa, in what year was President Lincoln born?”,  she responds “Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.”   She can also play music, if asked politely. You don’t have to shout, just conversational voice is recognized, as long as you start with “Alexa”, however, if you are in another part of the house, and have to shout, she seems to get that pretty well, too.

My nephew’s favorites might be more on the silly side, since he discovered she can tell silly jokes. “Alexa, tell me a joke about cows.”, and she has one ready.

These ‘speakers’ can also connect with other devices around the house to enable voice commands for tasks like turning on the TV, adjusting lighting, adjusting temperature.  Those connections may require additional hardware, but they open up a lot of accessibility options.

There are several brands (Amazon and Google are the most recognized) offering these devices in various price ranges, and may be also offered in kits to expand their functionality around the house.  The setup for the Amazon ‘echo dot’ was very easy – a simple guide tells you how to connect it to your WiFi, and then you just start talking.

Please share your experience if you’ve tried one of these!

 

Great article for caregivers of those with dementia, from myageingparent.com.

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We want to highlight this article for those looking for assistive technologies for those caring for someone with dementia or age-related frailties in a home setting. And highlight this website for its great information across the board for caregivers.

This website has an entire section devoted to technology, so you might want to even bookmark that section.  The organization is based in the UK, and provides information about caring for aging parents far beyond just technology. Check them out!

https://myageingparent.com/technology/assistive-technology/best-gadgets-to-assist-the-elderly-with-dementia/

Reference:

(Remember that prices of products and the company sponsor advertisements are written for a UK audience, but similar products are available also available in the US.)

Welcome to our new volunteer, Raj. Welcome aboard!

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Silver Technology Systems (STS) is delighted to welcome aboard our summer volunteer intern, Rajashow(Raj) Parajuli. Raj learned about our organization through the Montgomery County Volunteer website and wanted to pitch in to help our organization. He will be volunteering his time this summer with STS during his break between graduating from Magruder High School and his first year of college studies. Raj’s hobbies are Model Rockets, Robotics, hiking, camping and “procrastinating on his plans to start wood working”, We are delighted to welcome Raj to our team, and look forward to his help, especially with programming and research development.

Welcome to our new volunteer, Dylan!

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Silver Technology Systems (STS) is delighted to welcome aboard our first summer volunteer intern, Dylan O’Halloran.  Dylan saw the value in our mission based on his own experience with his grandparents, recognized the need to help other seniors, and wanted to pitch in to help this summer. He has begun his volunteer work with STS this week, shortly after finishing up his freshman year at Wootton High School, in Rockville, Maryland. He brings his own generational perspective –  which will be an incredibly valuable contribution to the work we do.

Dylan is excited to join the team and we look forward to seeing his talents shine.

How are senior women using the internet?

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Margaret Manning, founder of Sixtyandme.com, asked her website community of women over 60 about how they use the internet. This Huffington Post blog post tells about what she learned. Here are the highlights:

The Internet Helps Women:

    Over 60 Find Friends (New and Long-Lost)
    Create a Support Network
    Over 60 Stay Intellectually Stimulated

The same would obviously be true for senior men as well…

She closes by noting:

“One of the biggest misconceptions that I have seen over and over again since starting Sixty and Me is that people over 60 are out of touch with technology. The truth is that Boomers are a part of one of the fastest growing demographics in terms of usage of social media and other technologies. But, women over 60 are not just joining social media because everyone else is. They are getting real benefits from their time online including finding new friendships, building a support network, learning new things and having fun!”

There is quite a difference between “Boomers” and older seniors, but the power of the connections is priceless. Please comment about your experience of getting and staying connected. What surprises and challenges have arisen?

Smart phone?

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There is a world of wonder available for “smart-phone” users. But it would help to be able to see the keypad, and the texts that come in.

If you are still on the fence about smart-phones, I would recommend taking one of three strategies:

First: If you have a child/grandchild who always has the new thing, check to see whether you could afford to buy the same phone they currently have (or one they’ve recently had). Then, assuming your kids are as nice as you’ve raised them to be, you will have built in personal support. Sounds devious, but I can’t tell you how many things I’ve learned from my daughter. When they update – you update – and they will still be able to help. This might not be affordable, but if it comes close to affordable for you, remember how much nicer it would be to get help from your grandaughter for free, rather than paying a service charge to the clerk at the retail place.

Second: If you only need to get phone calls, text messaages and voicemail – just buy a cheap phone. You do not need to have a contract. There are many reputable sellers who don’t require a contract. You would want to look for a phone with a keypad that is usable for your fingers and your eyesight. One tip: iPads, which many of us use as eBook readers, can be used like phones. That larger size might be very helpful.

Third: Check out a disposable phone. This sounds crazy, I know, but there are “disposable” phones… they are sometimes called “burner phones” in spy novels. They are meant for filling the need for a phone when you aren’t ready to commit to a contract or provider. They are totally legitimate (despite the connotation of “burner phone”), and the benefit to you is to just get a phone quickly without signing a 2 year contract. You should never feel pressured to renew a contract for phone service, period. I know we all tend to just renew, thinking it is the only choice – but it isn’t! So, consider this option along with the others.

Staying connected

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We grew up with telephones. Plain old phones. That was how we kept in touch. Well, that and the U.S. Mail. I remember thinking it was so cool just to call a number to get the time of day, or the weather, or a horoscope.

It wasn’t that long ago that just getting a cordless phone – along with an answering machine – seemed amazing.

Today, though, there seems to be a new gadget (nicknamed “device”) or software program (nicknamed “app”) for staying in touch being announced every day of the week. And our fancy devices seem to be obsolete just about the time we get comfortable with them. Then we find the warranty ran out in a blink, and the retail store support center says it will cost more to give you the service than if you just succumb to buying the newest thing they are offering. But they don’t know how well that new thing might work with the others, so there isn’t a warranty on that either.

Change is hard, and it tends to get more difficult as we age. Also, it’s true that many of our living rooms and dens are filled with devices which are connected with cords and cables and magic remotes that defy even expert attempts to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. One power outage, for example, and you may not be even to call to get service, because you need the internet just to look up the phone number of the power company!

Here are some things you can do to simplify, without giving up the functionality YOU want:

First: Think of the functionality you really DO want. Not focusing on the “things”, but on what you want to do to stay connected. Examples might include: “I want a reliable phone in the house, and I want to be able to hear it ring, and reach to pick it up without searching the house for it.” “I want to easily print paper copies of web pages or emails,” or, “I want to watch movies and regular broadcasts on the TV.” “I want to have ready access to online books.” “I want to be able to call my kids and grandkids with a video link, because I like being able to see them.”

Second: Inventory the “things”: Take a quick inventory of your electronics. Seriously! Just walk around the house so that you don’t forget things that haven’t been used in long time. And for each “thing” (gadget/computer(desktop or laptop)/TV/stereo/phone/modem/printer), jot a note about how often you use them, and frequency of them causing trouble. For example, I have two old VCRS – I’m not sure either works anymore, because it has been that long since I tried. I also have a small TV in the bedroom that I haven’t watched in about 10 years. I have more than one old printer that isn’t working, and storing them in the basement has been easier than recycling. (Tech Inventory Worksheet)

Third: Connect the dots. One of the hardest things that our generations have been battling with in our home electronics has been the connections. Older electronics require cables, newer ones are trying to move to wireless connections, and we are all stuck in the middle, trying to mix and match various “things” that really are only patched up to work together. “Wifi”, “Bluetooth”, “HDMI”, … So don’t think it’s just you who gets swamped with that complexity. Ten years ago, I had to buy a DVD player, a receiver, a TV, and a speaker system just to get my daughter’s movies to play. And since I wanted her to be able to watch from the basement family room, I had to do that twice. And then of course we had to get a “Wii” – and then came “Xbox” … each one adding to the complexity.

Last step: Don’t give up hope! The issues of complexity for our usual connections are being addressed in great new products like Smart TVs, and they are becoming mature enough that they can be very reasonably priced. Ask a local expert (a child or grandchild, a friend from work or your community, or a service like “Geek Squad”, or us, Silver Technology Systems) for advice about how to create an up-to-date system for YOU. You will be prepared. Ask for help in removing old devices (recycling devices can be a challenge, more on that in a future post). And then, evaluate the cost of keeping the status quo, versus swapping out the old for the new, and then build a plan and a budget to get there, and stay there. The retail sales people are a starting point, but, because they have something to sell, you will want to find a trusted person to help you weigh the options.