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Elders’ Resistance To Using Technology: Challenges With Mom, AgingParents.com

Alice was 86 when she lost her tech-savvy husband. He was an early adopter and spent hours on
the computer. He managed their money, paid bills online and kept track of their lives with digital
storage. He had tried many times to get Alice to take a computer class in their senior community.
She always refused. She wouldn’t touch “the thing”, that computer. She had arthritis in her hands
and said it hurt to try to use a mouse.

After her husband’s death, she soon realized that she would be completely dependent on her adult
son and daughter to pay her bills and manage all her finances. That rankled this independent
woman who liked to do things her own way. Surprisingly, she asked her son for help.
I am that son. Alice was my mom, who lived to be 96. I am a patient person and my professional
education gave me an advantage in understanding how people learn. First things first, I thought.
Why is Mom having so much trouble with a mouse? I pulled up a chair and asked her to sit with me
by the desktop computer Dad had used. I showed her the mouse and I watched. I realized
immediately that there was a solution for her hand pain and awkwardness manipulating the mouse.
Arthritis in her wrist stopped her from moving the mouse as needed. I brought a trackball and sat
with her for another session. Bingo! She caught on right away to moving the cursor on the screen
and was immensely proud of herself. We were off and running with numerous teaching sessions.
We moved on from there. This is how to open a document. Check. She got it after a few tries. This is
email, Mom. She had more trouble keeping track of that but with a few more lessons, she did learn.
She was never much of a sender but she enjoyed receiving email messages. Somehow, she got
connected to another senior in her community who made it her mission to send daily jokes to those
on her mailing list. Once Alice caught onto that, she looked for the jokes daily and laughed out loud
at many of them. (They were often “dirty jokes”!) That brightened her day and she forwarded the
best ones to us. We took the clean ones and for a long time, posted them on a humor page on our
website, with Alice as the Jokemeister. She loved it.

There is more to the story of Alice’s journey with technology over the remaining ten years of her life.
She learned to use Google and look things up on her own. She would get stuck sometimes and call
for help. I found remote access software. I could get onto her computer, no matter where I was, to
help solve the glitches. They sounded like this: “Mikol, I have too many googles on my screen! I
have 3 googles. Can you fix that?” Yes, Mom. Got it. I’d call her back after a good chuckle and let
her know the “too many googles” were gone now.

We took a trip with Alice to her favorite beach spot in the summertime. When we arrived, we could
see that she was rather shaky on her feet. That was alarming, as the fall risk was obvious. My wife,
Carolyn Rosenblatt, a retired Public Health Nurse, remarked that we needed to try out a walker for
Alice while we were there to supervise. We broached the subject. Alice resisted, as she said she
didn’t want anyone to think she was a “cripple”. (She was 90 at the time). We gradually talked her
into it. We knew we had to locate a medical supply place in the beach area. The next day, Alice told
us where to find one, just to try out the silly walker she could rent, for our sakes. We asked her how
she knew where the medical supply place was, as she didn’t live in that area and we had not yet
begun to look. “I googled it” she said.

Alice was very proud of herself and the measure of independence she got from learning to use a
computer in even the most basic ways. She remained resistant to taking computer classes at her
senior community center, not wanting to be embarrassed at any shortcomings she had. We never
pushed that. She enjoyed the close personal attention she got from family, rather than going to a
class.

For anyone who has a resistant aging loved one who won’t touch a computer, much less other
technology available, consider these possibilities:

1. Sometimes things like arthritis, vision limitations or embarrassment at trying something
foreign to them is a stumbling block. See if you can find a work-around for the physical
things, like arthritis in one’s hands. Enlarge the type for those with vision limitations. Be sure
your loved one can hear all you say.

2. Reassurance that you are there to help and can spend as much time as needed is a way
past the embarrassment. Take nothing for granted. Concepts about the computer may be
completely new to an elder who has never experienced the notion of something online.
Patience and a calm tone with as many repetitions as needed is required. Write down each
lesson in words that your loved one will understand and relate to, preferably in the way
they express questions themselves.

3. Use remote access software yourself so you can see and manipulate what is on your aging
loved one’s screen when he or she is stuck. It was very helpful and solved many issues
when they came up. They will come up often so be ready.

4. If you are not the patient type, find someone in your family or your aging parent’s community
who is. Millions of aging persons do learn the basics and some teachers of technology may
be willing to give private, in-home lessons. Most seniors’ communities and community
colleges offer elementary computer classes. An instructor from one of those may be
available for a price to come to your elder, avoiding any feelings of embarrassment the elder
has in revealing their awkwardness in a larger setting.

5. Grandchildren can be a fine source of help too, but not all are willing to take the time to help
a grandparent. Kids have grown up with technology and they may have no awareness that
Grandpa doesn’t know the terminology nor essential concepts involved. For willing, patient
and capable grandkids, it is an opportunity to bond with the grandparent, to create mutual
satisfaction and to reach enjoyment in new ways. Think of kids calling grandparents on Zoom
for a face-to-face visit. We did video visits with Alice before Zoom was a thing. She loved
speaking to her grandson who was traveling in a foreign country at that time, seeing him on
her computer screen. She thought it was miraculous.

6. Even with resistance in your aging loved one, the close personal attention you offer is like a
key that unlocks the opportunity for the elder. Who doesn’t like attention? For someone like
Alice, widowed after 62 years of marriage, loneliness was an ongoing challenge. We seized
the moment and used our companionship and closeness to help her overcome her long-
standing unwillingness to learn.

Cognitive Impairment
A word of caution here. If your aging loved one has memory loss issues or dementia, their ability to
learn new things may be extremely limited or non-existent. If you told your elder you were coming to
visit tomorrow and they forgot by the next day, that is a red flag for memory loss that is not normal. It
is not wise to suggest a computer or any other technology lesson for a person who has dementia,
even in the early stages of the disease. Pushing a lesson on any new thing would likely trigger an
angry response. That comes from fear, inability to concentrate and confusion. A person with
dementia, mild cognitive impairment, or a volatile, moody personality is not a good candidate.
Fortunately for our family, Alice had a clear mind until near the end of her life. She had a high school
education and was of average intelligence. But she liked her independence and that was one
primary motivator to get her to adopt the computer. She went on to learn to use an iPod, smart
phone, Uber, a laptop, and toward the end of her days, Alexa. We had to teach her about each one,
step by step. The outcome was a greatly enhanced quality of life, and increased connection to
others through internet access. She took pride in that. It was also very satisfying for her family. We were happy to be able to contribute to Alice’s life in that way. There is no doubt that she was better
off in so many ways, once she got tech-connected.

By Carolyn Rosenblatt and Dr. Mikol Davis, AgingParents.com

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