By: Tara Millspaugh
Senior citizens in San Diego aren’t just sitting back and watching the digital world progress without them. Whether they follow their daughter on Facebook or keep up with their grandchildren through Facetime, seniors are increasingly learning the skills necessary to communicate in the digital age.
For 81-year-old Joanne Jenkins, Facebook is her only hope of finding her three children who were adopted nearly 30 years ago.
Cyber Café provides access for seniors
Jenkins lives alone in a small apartment in City Heights. Almost every day, Jenkins goes to the cyber café located within the Gary & Mary West Senior Wellness Center. The center is located in the heart of downtown San Diego and offers resources, meals and transportation to low-income seniors.
Inside the café, Jenkins, a small grey-haired woman, smiles at her computer.
“I’m the type of person, I don’t like to be by myself,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has been battling cancer for the past 10 years and is currently in remission. Despite her health, she laughs at a Facebook post her cousin wrote and seems to enjoy herself.
Jenkins just recently got a Facebook account. She said she is hoping the social network site will help her find her children.
In 1984, Jenkins lost custody of her three children and she believes the adopted parents changed their names. She has been unable to locate any of them via Facebook, but her search continues every day.
“There are a lot of medical problems that they don’t know about,” Jenkins said. “Diabetes is in the family and Alzheimer’s too.”
Social media workshops assist the elderly
Seniors, like Jenkins, learn how to use social media and other websites to connect with family members from around the country. Volunteers at the center hold two workshops every month to teach about varying topics pertaining to the web. Last month, the topic was how and why to create a Facebook account.
San Diego State gerontology graduate student and advocacy intern Rebecca Daniels spent an hour in the cyber café teaching six senior citizens how to use Facebook effectively.
“It’s important social interaction and keeping in touch and maintaining that social network is very important for successful aging,” Daniels said.
Daniels said isolation is one of the biggest issues concerning senior citizens. She has noticed many seniors take a lot of convincing to see the importance of staying connected with loved ones. One man in the class thought the government could watch him through Facebook and didn’t want to create an account.
But, others, like Jenkins, were eager to learn how to search for people and organizations.
“They do seem happier when connected,” Daniels said. “That affects their outcome in life, their health and it affects how they interact with society, because they make the world so small.”
Daniels also mentioned that many homebound seniors – seniors who can’t leave their home because of their health – may only interact with their nurse or people who clean their home.
62-year-old Fred Washington has a son in college at San Francisco State and contacts him weekly through Facebook.
“I know he’s busy, he doesn’t want his dinosaur of a dad to call him every day,” Washington said. “That’s the only reason I have Facebook.”
The Wellness Center has free wifi all throughout the building and seniors inside and outside of the café are seen on a computer.
Seniors learn technology from family
San Diego resident 73-year-old Edward Foster doesn’t live in a community home, and doesn’t have the resources to collaborate with other seniors. He said his grandchildren and brother-in-law take the time to show him how to use the most up-to-date technology.
Foster is considering purchasing an iPad, so he met with his brother-in-law at a Mission Valley café to learn how to use FaceTime and other features of the iPad.
Wii bowling allows fun and exercise
At St. Paul’s Manor for senior citizens, the residents are using a different type of technology to stay active. Wii bowling has become the highlight of the week for 81-year-old Jim Campbell. He is the Towers Team captain and he and his team play every Monday.
The Towers play a game of Wii, showing off their skill and ability to use the technology.
Campbell said being able to play video games on the Wii allows him to play and relate with his two grandchildren who just entered kindergarten.
Mac clubs build collaboration among seniors
In another senior citizen community in San Diego, a Mac club meets twice a month to troubleshoot Apple technology. Twelve senior citizens living at Casa de las Campanas, an independent living community in Rancho Bernardo, sit inside a conference room with a Mac connected to a projector.
70-year-old Jeanine McCullough noticed many of her friends living in Casa de las Campanas owned a laptop, but many of them didn’t know how to use it correctly. So, she partnered with 73-year-old David Contra and created what is now known as the Mac club.
McCullough said 43 residents signed up for the club but only about 12 members actively participate.
“With our club fees over the past two years, we bought this,” McCullough says while tapping on a new Apple MacBook pro.
McCullough said she has had a computer for more than 10 years, but still could use some help using it.
Contra taught last week’s class on how to bookmark websites. Some of his favorites included the local library, the Safari Park and Astronomy Picture of the Day.
“There are a lot of different skill levels, if we usually have a question we all try and figure it out, but if we can’t, we’ll find someone who does,” McCullough said.
“As you get older, you know, you can’t remember too well,” Contra said. “If I teach them how to save their sites, they can always go back later.”
Contras said he must be very patient with the members of the club because the skills range from owning a Macbook and knowing a lot, to a member who thought the Macbook was an actual book that she could read.
Technology users share common ground
The Pew Research Center surveyed U.S. American senior citizens over the age of 65. Based on data collected last year, 53 percent of seniors use the Internet or email. Since 2009, Pew Research Center found a 100 percent increase among seniors over the age of 65 using social media. In April 2009, 13 percent of seniors were using social media. As of May 2010, 26 percent are now active on social media sites.
For most seniors it’s a form of communication and a way to stay up-to-date in the digital age.
“I use Facebook almost every day,” Jenkins said. “It’s so funny what my family shares on the page.”