Ageing with attitude: Using technology makes the world of difference for older people

Jim Roche, who recently completed an Age Action computer course, talks to Margaret Jennings about learning to use the internet and the new worlds it has opened for him.

“I THOUGHT — the old fashioned way — that I could leave technology behind me, that it was like an evilness taking over the world or something, but I was so wrong. 

"It has improved my whole quality of life. It has opened up a whole new world for me going forward. And to tell you the truth, I’m ashamed at myself for not getting with it, before now.”

Before 61-year-old Corkman Jim Roche completed one of Age Action’s Get Started computer training programmes last month, he didn’t even know how to turn a PC on, but now is clearly full of the joys of the World Wide Web.

One of Jim’s main incentives to “get with the programme” - literally, was to catch up with his kids. 

Jim Roche (left)
Jim Roche (left)

He felt he was trailing behind his three children, aged 22, 19 and 17, who were inhabiting a world beyond his comprehension; one from which he felt locked out.

He says he’s not alone: “There are friends of mine who wouldn’t have a notion about IT stuff and who wouldn’t say it. There is a huge body of people I know, who are ashamed to put their hand up and say ‘I’m completely illiterate’. 

"It’s terrible and I would say to anyone who feels that way, to take the plunge — when the help is actually out there — to bring you forward into a new world.”

As part of Positive Ageing Week (September 26-October 2), Age Action is promoting, with the support of Bank of Ireland, a new initiative, called Digi Hour, at 8pm on September 29, urging everyone to take an hour at that time to show some older friend, family member or neighbour, the benefits of going online.

According to the September 2015 Eurostat report, only 37% of Irish people aged 65 to 74 use the internet, compared to 70% in Britain and an average across the EU of 42%. The figure excludes those over 75, where digital literacy is even less.

“The challenge we face in encouraging older people to get online, is overcoming the initial reluctance,” says Justin Moran, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action. 

“There is absolutely nothing stopping anyone learning how to use a computer or tablet regardless of age, but many feel nervous, or think it’s beyond them, or too complicated.”

With the focus that Digi Hour offers, it’s hoped this might change: “If someone they know and trust is showing them some of the amazing things they can do online, it might break the ice, so to speak — it might be the little bit of encouragement they need to persuade them to decide to learn and to pick up the phone to us, or to any other computer training providers out there,” he adds.

For Jim Roche, it was the push given by his 19-year-old son Fionn, who told him about the one-to-one training by Age Action volunteers, which has so far helped over 27,000 people over the age of 55 in 12 countries.

“I found the help fantastic — I couldn’t praise enough the course and I’m going to do the next one now to learn more,” he says. 

“I hope to get a smartphone next — do it in small steps. But I would say to those who are afraid to try, like I was, you don’t know what you’re missing — the level of information and knowledge that’s out there, at the touch of a button.”

Jim’s excitement for his world opening up, is palpable, but even more important, is the confidence he has now gained to join his children in that world. 

“I want to be part of their life and if, for instance, they are travelling abroad, I want to be able to skype them; to be accessible. “

There’s a pride also in his sense of achievement: “I used to look at a blank screen and not know what to do. Now I’m using the laptop and the kids are saying to me ‘how did you do that?”

Of older Irish people who are going online 63% aged 50-64 use Facebook; 12 % use Twitter and 11% use Instagram, according to Claire McCormick, marketing and sales executive at Dublin advertising agency Leading Social.

Amongst the 65 plus age group she says 56% use Facebook; 10% use Twitter and 6% use Instagram. But they are obviously the minority. 

Results of US research carried out at Michigan University two years ago, which followed the lives of thousands of retired older Americans for six years, suggested that use of the internet may help reduce depression by more than 30%.

Going on the Eurostat figures, however, we are still lagging far behind our European neighbours in simply logging on to new media. 

By putting the focus on September 29, Age Action hopes that participation in Digi Hour will be the first step not only towards narrowing that gap, but like Jim, opening up a whole new world for those nervous about technology.

Ageing quote

"The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child right into old age"

— English writer Aldous Huxley

Silver surfer

At 80, he’s called the “hottest grandpa” on the internet http://bit.ly/2chlX86 


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