Older people embrace technology to enhance their lives

TWO weeks ago 62-year-old Co Wicklow grandfather David Lowen took out the Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me, placed it on his turntable and listened to the sweet crackly sound of vinyl, revolving beneath an immaculately kept stylus. 

It was a treat not only to be transported back to 1963 when he bought the record, aged 11, but also to tune his ear to “that warm sound you get from vinyl, that you don’t get from the digital version — either from streaming or CD”.

He might have had to blow a speck of dust off the album — one of several hundred “in mint condition” he has collected since the ’60s, because, although he won’t part with his hoard of original records, it’s a rare ritual now to take them out of their sleeves.

After all, he has already converted every one of them digitally and can conveniently blast them out from wireless speakers around the house, at the tip of his fingers.

David says he was first “pulled in” to using technology because of his passion for music, starting with an iPod ten years ago. A decade down the road he has downloaded — between vinyl and CDs — 3,500 albums.

“On top of that, I used to read reviews of albums before I bought them and now I can sample music on Spotify instead,” he says.

It’s no surprise that the retired banker won the overall award in the Google Silver Surfer competition last year, which is given to an older person “who embraces the internet or technology with a sense of fun and adventure”.

The competition, which is run in conjunction with Age Action, the charity which promotes positive ageing in Ireland, celebrates older people who use technology.

According to the 2012 Irish Census, 21% of the 60-74 age group now use the internet every day compared to 9% five years previously — many avail of online services such as banking; or use it to Google, Skype and go on Facebook.

One 76-year-old who uses social media to full capacity, is Delores “Dee” Devereux, who was nominated for a Silver Surfer award last year by the Wexford Federation secretary of the ICA (Irish Countrywomen’s Association) in recognition of Dee’s use of online methods in recruiting new members.

“As recruitment officer I email new members with details of guild meetings — we have opened three new guilds in the past two years — and I use Facebook to introduce the ladies — most of whom are over 50 — to the fun and friendship of the ICA,” she says.

To the group of women who founded the ICA in Wexford back in 1910 this would undoubtedly have been an inconceivable futuristic concept.

Dee is no newcomer to IT though: “I bought my first computer when my grandson Bobby was six. He was learning computing at school and I thought ‘If he can learn why can’t I learn with him?’ Bobby used to come here after school and at weekends to use my computer and we learnt together — he is 20 now and builds and mends computers.”

She also updated her skills on an ICA course two years ago and her husband bought her a Blackberry last year.

Dee also Skypes her five daughters, aged 38 to 57, on a regular basis.

“I still can’t believe technology allows this,” she says. “I would recommend to any older person to learn to use a laptop or computer — you will never be bored. It opens up a whole new world to you. It can be a great start to your day — you are never lonely and you can all share your ups and downs and fun times with your online family.”

David agrees: “I would encourage older people who are unfamiliar or intimidated by computers to look for assistance. It is a real gateway to easier communication on so many fronts. I have a desktop computer, a tablet and a smartphone. I buy my newspapers online and have them available early in the morning every day.

“I do as much ‘paperwork’ as possible online, such as motor tax, insurance, TV licence, income tax and I use the Kindle to read books.”

According to the findings of a European survey by the European Centre for Social Welfare older people who use the internet regularly, preferably daily, are less likely to be isolated.

If “all the lonely people” referred to in the 1966 Beatles song Eleanor Rigby, had access to the worldwide web, there might have been fewer of them around.

Closing date for nominations for the Google Silver Surfer awards is Sunday, October 5. Forms can be filled in online at www.ageaction.ie/silversurfer. There are five award categories — New to IT; Hobbies on the Net; IT Tutor of the year; Google Silver Surfer, and Golden IT.

Hello Brain campaign

More of us are living longer and while we are educated about stretching our bones and muscles to improve quality of life, we tend not to think about the health of our brain — which is invisible.

An innovative website called Hello Brain, was launched on Tuesday in Trinity College, Dublin providing practical tips on how to keep our brain healthy using a range of entertaining videos and online resources, including the Hello Brain health app which can be downloaded for free.

The Hello Brain campaign, led by TCD and co-ordinated by Dr Sabina Brennan, of Trinity’s NEIL (Neuro-Enhancement for Independent Lives) programme stresses that cognitive decline is not inevitable; the brain is plastic and can change even in later life and cognitive reserve protects against decline. To be proactive about your brain health go to www.hellobrain.eu

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