Computer clubs spur more seniors to log on

While technology can intimidate older people, it also opens up opportunities to socialize, access information

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter




Clark College

Computer: Beginner I, Sept. 30-Oct. 28

Computer: Beginner II, Nov. 4-Dec. 16

Computer: Email, Sept. 30-Oct. 28

Each class is $60. Registration begins Aug. 22 at or 360-992-2939.

Vancouver Community Library

Introduction to the Internet, 2-3:30 p.m. July 27, Aug. 4, Sept. 7

Searching the Internet, 2-3:30 p.m. July 28, Aug. 11, Sept. 14

Getting More Out of Google, 2-3:30 p.m. Aug. 18, Sept. 21

Free Email, 2-3:30 p.m. Aug. 25 and Sept. 28

Call 360-906-5106 for more information.

Firstenburg Community Center

Computer Club, 1-3 p.m. Thursdays

Cost is $1. Call 360-487-7001, ext. 8.

Waterford at Fairway Village

General Computers, 2:30 p.m. Mondays

IPad, 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays

Facebook, 1 p.m. Fridays

Call 360-254-2866 for more information.

Vancouver resident John Kelly was in his 20s when the first commercially produced computer debuted in 1950, but the 83-year-old didn’t have a computer of his own until two months ago.

“I just thought computers were over my head,” Kelly said. “I kept reading about people being scammed online, and people being tracked down. I thought I’d just let other people use them.”

Fear of the unknown, intimidation and changes from aging, such as poor eyesight, that may make it more difficult to interface with electronic devices are among the chief reasons seniors are the least likely age group to engage in technology.

Yet technology, particularly the Internet, opens up more opportunities for seniors to socialize, access information to enhance their quality of life and find activities that stimulate their brains, according to local gerontologists.

“There’s an idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” said Cory Bolkan, assistant professor of gerontology at Washington State University Vancouver. “That’s completely wrong. Although there is some cognitive decline as we age, we also know there’s lots of opportunity to grow and develop. A big factor is staying engaged. If you are not using the skills, that’s when you see atrophy.”

Kelly decided to go out and find the skills he needed after his son and daughter-in-law gave their old desktop computer to him two months ago. He joined a beginners’ computer club for seniors at Vancouver’s Firstenburg Community Center, where participants meet with an instructor each Thursday to ask questions, watch demonstrations and learn new tips on how to make their computers work for them.

“I’m trying to learn how to operate that crazy thing,” Kelly said. “Sometimes it outsmarts me.”

The club, which costs just $1 to join, is one of several local classes seniors can join to learn about computers, the Internet, iPads and even social media. Classes are available at the Vancouver Community Library, Clark College and retirement centers, including Waterford at Fairway Village.

“The question is, ‘How do you find out about it?’” said Vancouver librarian Lorraine Badurina. “The class on our website is under ‘events.’ If you don’t know how to use a computer, then you probably don’t know it’s happening. That’s the changing world we live in.”

Information about the class is available inside the library, as well as online.

In 2010, about 90 percent of Americans ages 18-29 used the Internet compared with 46 percent of ages 65-plus, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. And despite having more health problems, people ages 50-plus were less likely than younger people to look up health information online, the Pew Research found. Only 46 percent of people 50-plus did so, compared to 71 percent of people ages 30-40 and 72 percent of people ages 18-29.

War stories

Kelly has been in the Firstenburg club for just two weeks. So far, he can navigate the Internet and email friends. One of his favorite pastimes is looking up facts on World War II.

“That’s really something,” Kelly said. “I can’t imagine a machine sitting in my house and telling me so much stuff. It’s really, really amazing because when I was young, we didn’t have anything like that.”

Poor eyesight or less agile fingers due to arthritis can make some gadgets difficult for seniors to maneuver, said Gail Haskett, a Vancouver gerontologist with Aging Resources geriatric care consulting company. There is a need for more designs with larger font and easier-to-use systems, Haskett said.

She recommends that seniors look for computers, such as Telikin, with touchscreens and easy setup.

“There are many computers which are simplified and designed to give seniors access to the most commonly used Internet functions,” she said.

Waterford resident Joanie Nelson, 79, finds the iPad easier to handle than a laptop. She recently bought one for a trip and takes an iPad class at Waterford. She uses the iPad to read posts on Facebook, email and look up information, including recipes and restaurant reviews.

“I like to know what’s going on in the world,” Nelson says. “It’s good for the brain.”

Faraway grandkids

The need to socialize, especially with grandchildren, is one of the main reasons older people finally surrender to the digital age.

“Both of my grandkids live in Germany. They need Grandma,” said Vancouver resident Patricia Halvorson, explaining why she finally bought a computer. Halvorson is also in the Firstenburg class.

“Many seniors and disabled persons spend a good deal of time at home, often isolated and lonely, which can lead to depression,” Haskett said. “The Internet has had a major effect on reducing loneliness and isolation among seniors.”

Dale McClaran, 91, of Vancouver, uses the Internet to email family and friends, manipulate digital photos and make online video calls on Skype to see his great-granddaughter in Alabama.

“Technology has conquered me,” said McClaran.

But his interest stops short of social media.

“I don’t understand Facebook and why people spill all their beans to everybody,” says the resident of Waterford at Fairway Village, an active-adult retirement community. “I could never see the point,” he says. “People say the darnedest things and send it out to everybody.”

He’s not alone in his sentiments. Just 4 percent of seniors are on Twitter, Facebook or other status-updating sites, according to Pew Research.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551;;;