County senior citizens tackle technology


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The elderly statewide may lag in high-speed Internet knowledge, but Johnson County officials are trying to keep local seniors better informed.

According to a report released by broadband company Connect Iowa, Iowa has the sixth-largest number of residents over the age of 70 in the nation. The report said roughly half of Iowans age 70 and older own a computer, and only 27 percent subscribe to broadband, a disparity local Internet officials said may come from the cost.

"You're looking at a cost of $40 to $50 or more a month just to have Internet access," said Emily Light, a community outreach specialist at the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St. "It's a cost that didn't exist a generation ago. It may not be a matter of adoption so much as affordability and access."

Light said the Senior Center offers a variety of technical programs, ranging from beginner computer classes and Facebook workshops to pocket gadget workshops for cell phones, e-readers and MP3 players. Many seniors use the computer labs at the center and the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., she said.

"It's good that our city services are offering people opportunities to have that access even if they can't afford it at home," she said. "We've found a lot of seniors are embracing the technology and keeping up with it to the extent that they can."

Ron Cope, a member of the Senior Center, said he often uses computers there for business and entertainment. The continually changing technology creates a societal pressure to constantly keep up, he said.

"I'm definitely interested in new technology, but still everything changes so fast," he said "As soon as a new device gets out the door, it's obsolete."

Cope said he finds the constant connectivity of modern technology can actually strain one's independence.

"I find myself wondering, 'Does it facilitate or hamper the process of learning to be independent?' " he said. "If you want to isolate yourself, how do you do that?"

The Connect Iowa report found that 260,000 elderly Iowans rarely use broadband. But Light said high-speed communication programs such as video chatting are critical for seniors to keep in touch with children who live far away.

"[Skype] is a popular form of communication, but there is somewhat of a gap in being able to use [these technologies] practically," she said.

Virginia Jorstad, a coordinator for the lifelong learning program at the University of Iowa's Center on Aging, said she finds it very important to provide technology educational sessions for older adults. The UI Center for Aging provides the Lifetime Enrichment Adult Program to provide intellectual stimulation and personal growth for older adults, she said.

"I find [older adults] to be really searching and wanting to learn more about technology. [They] want to learn so they can communicate with their children and/or grandchildren," she said. "That's how they know these individuals communicate. The technology subjects are always something our members want to learn more about."

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