How can seniors become more empowered citizens? The answer is simple, according to Max Rothman, JD, LLM, President and CEO of the Alliance for Aging in Miami, FL.
His organization is the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. AAA is a nationwide network of State and local programs that help older people to plan and care for their life long needs.
An AAA pilot program demonstrates how well seniors adapt to digital technology, under the right parameters. The program also showed that bridging the digital divide and helping seniors feel in control can be accomplished for relative low cost if done right. Results in progress of this digital initiative were presented at today's American Society on Aging Conference, "Aging in America 2012" in Washington, DC.
Helping seniors go digital is becoming more of an imperative Rothman noted. Many government services, from Medicare to food stamps, now conduct much business online, and families are scattered, which makes maintaining regular contact more difficult. Many seniors feel isolated and helpless, and this impacts their mental state, cognitive abilities, as well as their quality of life he added. Being wired means seniors can take charge of tasks themselves, helping them to feel in more control of their lives. Their mental state also improves - they love to talk to family regularly via Skype, they can access health information, and even join social networks.
Funding through the Older Americans Act helped get the training initiative in senior centers and in some participant's homes off the ground. The agency developed partnerships with other social service organizations, non-profits, universities, and Internet service providers for low-cost or donated equipment, services, training, and case management. A year of free broadband service and tech support were also provided through AT&T and Comcast. Training was designed to include tech and literacy levels, limited English proficiency, and educational barriers. Health and age-related issues such as poor vision or difficulty holding a mouse or using a keyboard due to arthritis, Parkinson's or other degenerative conditions, also had to be taken into account.
It was immediately apparent that increased access to this technology reduced feelings of isolation and increased their sense of independence said Rothman.
In the two and a half years since the pilot began, 730 seniors and caregivers have been trained by volunteers at a cost of approximately $455 thousand dollars; that figure also includes hardware, software, broadband access, and related expenses. When we worked out the numbers, it came to $622 per person Rothman said.
More funding is needed to expand the program throughout South Florida. We'd like to wire entire communities, especially high rise public housing. We know it's possible to empower seniors in a cost effective way though digital technology.
Success to date has been measured through anecdotal and observational evidence but a more formal evaluation is planned. Perhaps one of the students, age 93, put it best: I love my computer because my family and friends are inside.