Friday, February 24, 2017

Want to Age Better? Join a Choir

A groundbreaking study examines the health benefits of making music as we age

Credit: Getty Images

By Deborah Quilter for Next Avenue

Twenty years ago, when academic researcher Julene Johnson wanted to study how music might help the aging process, she couldn’t get funding. Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, suspected that music might improve memory, mood and even physical function.

And, she thought, what could be more perfect than choral music? Your instrument is already in your body, and you are bathed in beautiful sound by fellow music makers. Singing in a group is fun, so there’s plenty of reason to come back week after week: You get to see your friends and exercise your vocal cords and brain all at once.

Fast forward to 2010, when Johnson won a Fulbright scholarship to study the impact of singing in the quality of life of older adults in Finland.

Why Finland?

Because there, children study arts, but they don’t stop when they get older, as so many people do in the United States. They keep singing or making music throughout their lives. In fact, in one city (population 125,000) there were more than 50 choirs — six of which were dedicated to older adults. Because of its emphasis on cradle-to-grave musical expression, Finland seemed the perfect place to study the effect of music on aging.

Music as a Force for Good

In Finland, Johnson saw the effects up close, including how making music together can build group cohesion toward a common goal.

Vocal music even played a pivotal role in Finnish history, Johnson notes. “Music was used as a political force,” she says. When Finland was ruled by Russia, citizens would meet and talk about politics. They planned how to change the future at singing festivals, which eventually led to the country’s independence.

When Johnson returned to the U.S., she was determined to learn more. So when the National Institutes of Health called for proposals to identify novel ways to promote independence and well-being in older adults, she applied for, and receive, a grant founding her Community of Voices study, the largest of its kind.

Johnson hypothesized that music participation is a cost-effective way to promote health, independence and well-being to help an increasingly diverse population of older people remain active and independent. Other studies have found that older adults who sing in choirs tend to have high rates of well-being and mood, but they didn’t address whether those effects can be attributed to choral singing or to the self-selection of the participants.
The Community of Voices Study

Johnson’s study — large, rigorous and randomized — would really put the hypothesis to the test. Involving 390 participants from 12 senior centers in the San Francisco Bay area, the Community of Voices study is unique in a few ways.

For starters, it is the first to test the effects of an arts-based intervention for older adults on improving key measures of health and well-being: cognitive health, physical functioning, emotional well-being and social connectedness.

Another difference is the deliberate recruitment of ethnically-diverse older adults. By 2030, nearly half of people over 65 are expected to come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

After participants were recruited, they were screened and given assessments that would be remeasured at six and 12 months. Participants needed to be 60 or older and have adequate vision and hearing and fluency in English or Spanish. People with significant cognitive impairment were excluded. Of the nearly 400 participants, 55 percent had not sung in a choir as an adult.

Serious About Singing in a Choir

The Community of Voices program also was different from the passive singalong approach to choruses that you might expect to see in senior centers because it was designed to include physical, social and cognitive components as well as performances.

Professional choir conductors and accompanists designed the musical program. Directors made certain adjustments for age, such as changing the key to allow for aging voices to sing without strain. But the 90-minute rehearsals involved learning new songs, paying attention to the conductor and synchronizing personal singing parts with the rest of the choir. The repertoire included Latin, African-American and Filipino music, show tunes that were tailored to each choir.

Rather than sitting the whole time, choir members stood or moved to different parts of the room. A 15-minute warm-up at the beginning of each session included vocal work, breathing and stretching movements. There was also a 10-minute refreshment break.

Measuring Outcomes

Each choir met once a week for a year, and performed three to four times in public. The average age was 71, females represented 76 percent of participants,and two-thirds were non-white. Researchers collected data about falls and the use of health care services every three months, and focused on three primary outcomes:

  • Cognitive function: Attention and executive function were tested.
  • Lower body strength: Participants were given a timed sit-to-stand test to assess their ability. 
  • Emotional well-being: Participants were rated on the frequency of depressive symptoms including feeling down, having little interest in things, trouble sleeping, being tired, having poor appetite, feeling bad about themselves, having trouble concentrating or moving slowly. 
Participants were also tested for verbal learning and memory, social engagement, social support, loneliness, walking speed, balance and falls. 

Another key attribute was measured — self-efficacy — which Johnson defined as “people feeling like they have the power to do things for themselves.” In addition to literally building strength to sing louder, Johnson notes that singing can help people find their voice metaphorically speaking.

“The voice is a way of self-expression,” she says. “They can speak up to their landlords.”

The last Community of Voices choir is soon to finish its run for the study, and the data is still being collected and tabulated. One thing is for sure, though: The choirs were a hit. Once they finished participation in the study, all the previous choirs have continued to sing.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fighting Ageism and Unfair Treatment in Health Care

Among the problems: doctors who view depression and anxiety in older adults as 'normal'
By Terry Fulmer for Next Avenue

(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays.)

Credit: Getty Images

Everyone deserves equal treatment — in the broader society and in our health care system. Today, older people are often not treated fairly and do not get the care they deserve, simply because of their age. While one of our great success stories in the 20th century was the stunning gain in human longevity, recent research from The Frameworks Institute, funded by my group, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and others, has found that the majority of us still don’t recognize ageism or its deleterious effects. They call it a “cognitive hole,” a mental blind spot.

As 10,000 of us turn 65 each day, it is critical that we shine a bright light on this insidious prejudice. It is a matter of simple fairness and justice. It is a way to honor the priceless and irreplaceable contributions that older adults make every day to enrich our society and culture. And for those of us at The John A. Hartford Foundation, it is critical to the broader effort to improve care for older people.

The Dangers of Ageism

Research during the last two decades has implicated ageism in the under- and over-treatment of older patients, as too many clinicians mischaracterize organic medical conditions as normal aging. Others ignore pain, anxiety and depression as unavoidable as we get older or unconsciously view older people as less worthy or less important than their younger counterparts.

A classic example is the under detection of elder mistreatment, when, for example, clinicians ascribe bruises to anticoagulants instead of making an effort to ensure there is no family violence. Another — the assumption that all older people become confused and forgetful, when, instead, a brain tumor may be the real problem.

These negative and inaccurate views of older people consistently hamper our ability to recruit nurses, doctors and other health professionals into geriatrics and gerontology. The result: our health care workforce often lacks the knowledge and experience to treat a group of patients who make up 35 percent of all hospital stays and 27 percent of all doctor’s office visits. And though nearly four in 10 older people take five or more medications, clinical trials generally exclude older patients with multiple chronic conditions, so we may misjudge drugs’ efficacy (and even dangers) with this important patient population.

Even our own views of aging can have important influences on health and well-being. Researchers note people with more positive expectations about aging live longer, experience less stress and have a greater willingness to exercise and eat better. Conversely, negative perceptions of aging — inadvertently supported by unhelpful and negative stereotypes in popular culture and the media — can reinforce self-defeating behaviors that make us more vulnerable to disease and disability.

Developing an Age-Friendly Health System

During the last century, our health care system has consistently demonstrated an impressive ability to adapt and to find innovative solutions to challenging problems. Looking ahead, we need an intensive effort to create an age-friendly health system where all older adults and their families feel that the care they receive is the care they want and that they feel respected in the process.

We need health care suffused with aging expertise, devoted to person- and family-centered care, and able to provide coordinated services in the hospital, clinic and the community. This work is neither simple nor easy. Raising awareness about, and addressing, ageism throughout the health care system — and throughout our society — will be critical to delivering the care all of us want and deserve as we get older.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Making Communities Friendlier for Those With Dementia

That's the goal for the ambitious Dementia Friendly America initiative
By Beth Baker for Next Avenue

Volunteers pass out laminated bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer's at the local supermarketCredit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer's

Can a strong community network help ease the challenges faced by people with dementia and their families? That’s the hope of a national volunteer-driven initiative known as Dementia Friendly America (DFA).

“Our goals are to foster dementia-friendly communities that will enable people who are living with dementia and their care partners to thrive and to be independent as long as possible,” says Olivia Mastry, who’s guiding the effort. “The side benefit is that it’s beginning to normalize [Alzheimer’s], to reduce the stigma. It’s created an environment that’s allowed people to talk about this disease.”

Mastry comes to the issues from personal experience. She and her husband cared for her mother-in-law, who had dementia, the last four years of her life. “That’s given me deep context and understanding of what this takes,” she says, “The caregiver role is so big it can be made easier by an entire community coming together.”
A New Initiative

DFA next month will make live a web portal that offers communities a roadmap to create a dementia-friendly environment in many sectors of life, from churches to banks, government agencies and supermarkets.

“From a pure business perspective it makes a lot of sense for us to do this kind of work,” says Frank Fernandez of BlueCross/BlueShield Minnesota (BC/BS Minnesota), which insures many older adults. “Beyond that, the work aligns with our mission, which is to make a healthy difference in people’s lives.”

BC/BS Minnesota, one of 50 organizations on the DFA national council, is offering educational brown bag lunches to its employees and training its customer service representatives to better equip them to talk to people with dementia and their caregivers. It also contributed $750,000 to ACT on Alzheimer’s, a statewide initiative on which DFA is modeled.

Mastry adds that DFA will help communities find local funding to launch such efforts. But even without funding, she stresses, organizing can begin.

“If there is a champion in the community, you can do it,” she says. “Communities can really move this. So we’re trying to encourage them to take that first step.”

Here is a sampling of what communities around the country are doing to become dementia-friendly:

Minnesota’s first dementia-friendly canine
Credit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer's

Rural Challenge: Identify Those Who Need SupportIn 2014, Paynesville, Minn., population 2,400, launched an ambitious multi-pronged effort to reach out to an estimated 200 local people who have dementia. “The most difficult challenge we have is finding the people,” says Linda Musel, co-chair of Paynesville Area ACT on Alzheimer’s.

They began by surveying residents. “We went to every faction we could think of — bankers, lawyers, caretakers, government, teenagers — and we surveyed them,” says Musel. Some 90 people showed up at their first organizing event, a big turnout for a small town. The group decided to focus on educating the public and assisting caregivers.

They offer a class called “Dementia Friends,” which helps people overcome their fears and uncertainty about communicating with folks who have dementia. They also provide classes to emergency medical personnel and firefighters, who requested specialized training.

To reach young people, the group purchases relevant books for school libraries and teaches classes at the high school.

“We were surprised in our survey that the teens said, ‘That’s my grandma. Mom and Dad whisper about this, but they don’t tell us what’s going on.’ They want to help too,” Musel says.

Advocates also faithfully go to the town’s only supermarket on Wednesdays: senior discount day. They assist with shopping to relieve caregivers and pass out literature, including bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s, and let people know how to find support.

For their part, local ministers organized an Alzheimer’s Awareness Sunday. Caregivers often feel their loved one is not welcome at church, Musel says, and part of their educational effort is simply to remind people to smile and be welcoming.

Denver: Entrepreneurs Develop Technology for Connecting

One unusual dementia-friendly initiative is in Denver, Colo., led by Amanda Cavaleri, 27. Denver is one of DFA’s pilot communities, along with Tempe, Ariz.; Santa Clara County, Calif.; Prince George’s County, Md.; Knoxville, Tenn. and the state of West Virginia.

Cavaleri (see her TED Talk), whose expertise is new technology for older adults, has brought together key players who are interested in dementia-friendly efforts: Prime Health, made up of 1,000 health care administrators, physicians, entrepreneurs, investors, technologists and academics; the Colorado Technology Association; Catalyst, a digital health consortium; Jiminy Wicket, which promotes intergenerational croquet for people with dementia and Cavaleri’s nonprofit Connect the Ages, an intergenerational digital storytelling program.

“We wanted to see if there was interest from the entrepreneurial community and there was,” she says, including many who had family experience with dementia. “We chose to focus on the ‘extreme user’ — someone who is home alone, with dementia.”

Such individuals face many challenges, she explains — changes in depth perception, vision and cognition.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can help entrepreneurs so they can partner with home health organizations or communities,” says Cavaleri. “How can they receive funding and help them be successful and lower health care costs and improve quality of life?.”

Cavaleri works to create opportunities for elders, including those with dementia, to tell their stories. “Reminiscing is a really good tool to help people with dementia feel safe emotionally and have more stable behaviors,” she says.

Students meet face to face with people in retirement communities who have dementia, and capture their oral histories. Another pilot project that engages students is the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.

Cavaleri hopes DFA will eventually spark monthly coffee shop gatherings where caregivers, people with dementia and students can go to interact with each other, to participate in storytelling and reminiscing.

“We’re able to pass down these older adults’ knowledge and experience,” she says. “For both older and younger, it’s an avenue to systemically reducing isolation and building purpose — and hopefully attract some young talent for the longevity workforce.”
West Virginia – Statewide Pilot

Of DFA’s initial pilot programs, West Virginia is the only statewide initiative. “As I learned more about the work in Minnesota and the experiences with the medical community, it seemed like a natural fit for West Virginia,” says Helen Matheny, with the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown, who is leading the effort.

The initiative builds on partnerships already in place with AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association and other groups related to senior care and healthy lifestyles, she says. Phase one will be to raise awareness statewide and build capacity for doing dementia-friendly work in many sectors. In 2016, they hope to begin implementing programs in local communities.

“First we’re going to educate our citizens about the prevalence and the economic impact of dementia,” she says. “In addition we’re going to target four specific areas: faith communities, legal and financial services, businesses and emergency response personnel.”

They also will use social media to connect people with local resources.

“The idea is not to reinvent the wheel,” Matheny says. “We have a lot of resources readily available, so we want to be a convener and help facilitate getting residents to the right resources and tools that they need.”

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Digging for Dinosaurs in Retirement

Credit: Museums of Western Colorado
Caption: Retiree volunteer Tom Lawrence excavating dinosaur bone fragments in the field
One volunteer in her 70s made a world-famous discovery
By Cynthia Drake for Next Avenue

As a young boy, Tom Lawrence was fascinated with dinosaurs and dreamed of becoming a paleontologist. Life had other things in store.

But now, at 69, Lawrence drives each week to a building marked “Dinosaur Journey” in Fruita, Colo., walks into a laboratory and helps prepare 152-million-year-old dinosaur fossils. He’s been doing it since 2010. “It was a dream come true,” Lawrence says, of his first experiences working at Dinosaur Journey, operated by the Museums of Western Colorado.

Lawrence and a legion of retirees are finding opportunities to get their hands on prehistoric fossils by volunteering for museums across the U.S. and Canada. And they’re greatly appreciated. Since dig sites are rich with specimens, more help is always needed.

“As a small museum, we rely a lot on volunteers to help fill roles that otherwise we wouldn’t have the staff to do. Volunteers are awesome to work with out in the field — without their work we wouldn’t be able to run the operation the way we do,” says Rob Gay, paleontologist and curator of education at the Museums of Western Colorado.

A Major Discovery

Kay Fredette, 78, began volunteering at Dinosaur Journey in 1986. She sought to reconnect with her interest in natural history after her children left for college.

In 2014, one of Fredette’s discoveries made headlines across the globe.

“We were just digging, and I found a lump, and I said out loud, ‘Oh no, another vertebra,’” she says. “We find many, many vertebrae, and some of them are very, very hard to prep because they’re so complex. The [piece] that I thought was the ball of the vertebra dipped down and rose back up again, and there was another lump. We basically had the end of a drumstick. It was the knuckle end — the distal end of a femur.”

The two-meter-long femur, which took four years to dig out, wound up breaking the record for the largest known Apatosaurus femur in existence.

True, dinosaur digging can be physically taxing for someone in her 70s. “Ibuprofen works wonders,” Fredette says. She keeps showing up to chase the bones, donating about 20 hours of her time each week.

“Every time you find a new bone it’s exciting, because it’s the first one that’s ever been seen by human eyes,” Fredette says. “Even if it’s just a fragment, it’s that kind of jigsaw puzzle solving that’s always fun.”

Volunteers are trained on what to look for when preparing fossils and progress to more challenging projects based on their abilities and comfort level, Gay says.

Confident About Digging Up Dinosaurs

Back in the laboratory, volunteer Betsy Leonard, 63, buffs away rock fragments (called matrix) from a fossil specimen using dental tools such as metal picks, wet toothbrushes and a tiny air compressor. She has been volunteering for about two years and says she’s growing confident in her abilities.

“My very first dig, I broke a [dinosaur] bone,” Leonard says. “I was devastated.” The staff members weren’t. Leonard recalls that they said: “Ah, don’t worry about it. Here’s the glue.”

Often, children will nose up to the windows of the laboratory, which face out to the museum. Then, Leonard will look up from her work, slide open the window and ask, “Have any questions?”

How to Get Involved

Several museums around the country have volunteer opportunities for retirees. Digging typically takes place in summer months and fossil specimens are prepared in labs year-round. If you’d like to become a dinosaur digger, contact your local museum or university to see if they could use you or know who you should try.

The Florida Museum of Natural History and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center at Big Horn Basin are two examples of programs actively recruiting volunteers to help.
If you get the chance to dig for bones in the field, who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next one grabbing headlines for a new discovery.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Love E-filing? Here’s What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself From Tax-Related Fraud

As we dive deeper into the “digital age” many more of us are turning to online resources to file our tax returns. And why not? It saves time and money, makes the task of gathering information about our expenses, assets, income and relevant tax codes less daunting and allows us to receive tax refunds more quickly. According to the IRS, 90% of online filers receive their refunds within three weeks or less, as opposed to paper filers whose returns often take much longer to process (not to mention that there’s no sure-fire way to know whether your return has even been received).

Even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) advocates for electronically filed tax returns over paper, and has reported a 7.5% increase in self-prepared taxes in 2014,compared to 2013.  

As we prepare for tax season, however, it’s important to stay informed about scams that target e-filers. The IRS is warning about new tax phishing scams. Phishing can be described as “the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.” These malicious messages vary, but they are all after one common goal: monetary profit.

Individuals sending e-mails like the one above aim to collect as much personal information (i.e. your name and Social Security number) as possible, in order to file a fake tax return and collect a refund.  The scammers disguise their identity, impersonating IRS officials, TurboTax, and other companies/organizations alike, claiming they need your personal information so you may successfully file taxes online or receive a tax return.

Most of these e-mails lead the message recipients to select a link where they complete a form about themselves, while in other situations, a link can download malware (malicious software) onto a computer, compromising the stored information within the device.

The IRS advises taxpayers to ignore these fraudulent e-mails, urging users to avoid clicking on these suspicious links. The IRS, by the way, will never contact you via e-mail to ask for your personal or financial details. If you’re suspicious about a message you’ve received, send it to    

Filing your taxes online provides tremendous cost savings and other benefits, but it’s always prudent to be aware of activities that appear suspicious. QUESTION the things you see online, CHECK for validity, and ASK your friends or neighbors.

Resources to help keep you safe:

To obtain more information on other tax-related scams, you can learn more here:

What if you have already fallen victim of your tax refunds being stolen? Find out ways you can recover:

The Piers Project is funded by a gift from the family estate of Ellie Piers to benefit the FrontPorch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing’s (CIW’s) ongoing mission of using technology to enhance wellbeing among older adults. Piers lived at Carlsbad By The Sea, a Front Porch retirement community in Carlsbad, CA. Her contribution allows the CIW to address cyber security through education, training, and the use of technologies that promote Internet safety, especially in the greater San Diego area.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

4 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

Use these 'light' tips to brighten your days.
Patricia Corrigan for Next Avenue

When the sun wakes up late and slips away before the workday ends, when many a day is dark and gray, when it’s Groundhog Day and even an early spring seems far away, many large, hairy mammals — Punxsutawney Phil, included — choose to hibernate. But not us!

We slog through, knowing that the passage of time will bring brighter days ahead. But we can do more than wait it out. Here are four easy ways to beat the winter blues and create a little sunshine of your own:

1. Bring light to others’ lives

“I’m 87 years old and I can still finish The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle,” a friend wrote in a holiday note to me. She added, “And I love hearing from you!”

My aunt, who is 86 and lives in rural Illinois, also likes hearing from me. The joy is evident in her voice when I call to report any new funny stories about my grandson or even when I call just to say hello.

I care about both these women, and about other
distant friends as well. Talking with them brightens my day and theirs, too.

No matter how behind in life you are, consider making time right now to pick up the phone and bring some sunshine into the lives of your older relatives and friends.

After the call(s), keep that smile on your face. Research shows that
when you smile, your mood elevates and you feel less stressed.

In an article for Forbes,
Roger Dooley writes that if you smile in public, those around you will be lifted as well. “UCLA scientist Marco Iacoboni notes that our brains are wired for sociability,” Dooley reports. “In particular, if one person observes another person smile, mirror neurons in that person’s brain will light up as if he were smiling himself.” (Or herself, I’m certain.)

2. Open a box of light

 In mid-December, my friend Carol Porter posted this on Facebook: “I’m enjoying an early Christmas present to myself — my new light box! I sit next to it for 30 minutes daily, relaxing with coffee, calendar, notepad, tablet, organizing my day and thinking beautiful thoughts as the bright light bathes my retinas.”

When Carol complained of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — also known as the winter blues — her doctor gave her a brochure about a company that makes several varieties of high-powered therapy lights and lamps.

 “A light box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD,” says the Mayo Clinic. A light box may be an effective treatment on its own or, the Mayo Clinic adds, “in combination with an antidepressant medication or psychotherapy.”

Think you may suffer from SAD?
The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms:
• Irritability
• Tiredness or low energy
• Problems getting along with other people
• Hypersensitivity to rejection
• Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
• Oversleeping
• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain

Carol likes her lamp a lot. Sitting by it, she exhorts, “SAD, be gone!”

3. Light up the night

 Me, I like the dark. (Cue “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” from
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which starts out with this evocative line: “In the velvet darkness of the blackest night…” What, you’re not a fan?)

Night is when I write, read, listen to music and relax. I also like vanilla-scented candles, and one recent rainy evening I gathered up five of them, put them on a placemat in the middle of my dining room table and lit them all.

I turned off the lamps and then, with a clear sight line from the living room couch, I sat with a glass of wine, enjoying my impromptu candle party and the subtle scent of vanilla.

4. Treat your “defects” lightly

 “The truth is that the older I get, the more I like my defects. Old age is the best moment to be and do whatever you enjoy.” That’s Alma speaking. She’s the 81-year-old main character in Isabelle Allende’s book,
The Japanese Lover: A Novel, about a woman who carries on a secret affair well into her later years. What’s especially intriguing about Alma’s quote is the encouragement to embrace our flaws and emphasize our eccentricities.

 Another important self-improvement tip comes from a recent book by
Allen Klein, who insists it’s time to stop blaming other people for anything.You Can’t Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around is Klein’s 25th book on harnessing the power of humor to make a better life.

 “You are the only person who can ruin your day,” Klein writes. He says our reactions to any thought or action determines how we perceive that thought or action, and we have ultimate control over our reactions.

 To bolster his case, Klein, 77, quotes rabbis, Japanese proverbs, Desmond Tutu, Chinese philosophers, Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist nun) and even Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet.

 The gist of Klein’s message? Lighten up.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2016. All rights reserved.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Become a Boomer Tech Genius

Credit: Thinkstock
Humorous and helpful ideas to get savvy about electronics and apps

By Barbara Crowley for Next Avenue

(Editor’s Note: This article is a reader-submitted essay.)

I believe my generation, the boomers, will change the way the world views aging.

I think we’ll do this by railing against getting old, whereas the generations before us just sat back and accepted it.

Suppliers of cosmetics, plastic surgery, pharmaceuticals and vitamin supplements have voluntarily joined our cause. Actually, these businesses don’t see it so much as a cause, but as a potentially lucrative demographic — now tagged the “grey market.”

For most of these businesses, the focus is “anti-aging.”

I take issue with that term. The dictionary definition of “anti” is “opposed to.” Can you really be opposed to aging? Like you have an option and can cast your vote?

Is There An Aging App?

The technology industry, on the other hand, doesn’t really care if the boomers age. They just want us all to do it with a mobile app.

Tech innovators in the aging and caregiving arena believe that smartphones, smart homes, smart cars and big data will improve the lives of aging adults and their caregivers enormously.

I believe they are right. I just don’t know how to use that stuff very well.

I’m not tech-frightened. I consider myself a tech-curious-eager adopter. I’m excited for the future. I look forward to Rosie the Robot finally coming to live at my house! I will wear newfangled digital devices that track my heart rhythms and space-age socks that can decipher whether I am about to fall down and break a hip, or rat me out if I don’t take my medication. These devices will keep me safe and help me live longer.

Still, technology can be complicated and not always intuitive, especially for those of us who used typewriters and pay phones during our formative years.

My Solution: Adopt-a-Genius

So how can we attain tech savvy and then keep up with upgrades?

One idea: When I go to the Apple Store, a “Genius” helps me with a question about my iAnything and all the words coming out of his/her mouth make perfect sense. Then I go home and forget what I learned. So maybe the solution for both United States economic growth and older adults who struggle to make their technology work is to literally adopt an Apple “Genius.” It’s perfect!

The “Genius” gets free room and board and uses the money saved to pay off student loans. We adoptive boomers benefit by having a live-in IT person who doesn’t roll their eyes when you ask how to post a photo to Instagram like your real kid does.

Finding Tech Instruction

I am pretty sure Apple won’t implement my “Adopt a Genius” program anytime soon (unless they can get us to agree to their Terms and Conditions).

So here are a few practical options to help us navigate the world of technology:
Oasis Connections: They partner with local libraries, job help centers, senior centers and faith-based organizations to help bridge the “digital divide.”
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: Some of the most popular classes at this wonderful organization provide instruction on computers, smartphones and other mobile devices.
In New York City, try Older Adults Technology Services, which provides hands-on training to improve computer skills and learn how to search for reliable health information, city services. It also encourages social engagement, which is a good thing, too.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2016. All rights reserved.