Tutors Teach Seniors New High-Tech Tricks Seniors who aren't tech savvy can find themselves increasingly isolated, even from their families, as more and more communication moves to the digital realm. Across the country, a number of programs are enlisting high school or college students to train seniors on Facebook, Skype and smartphones.
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Tutors Teach Seniors New High-Tech Tricks

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Tutors Teach Seniors New High-Tech Tricks

Tutors Teach Seniors New High-Tech Tricks

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

Our first story: Grandma's Got a Smartphone. No doubt, lots of seniors received high-tech devices this holiday season. Now the challenge is figuring out how the darn things work.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this story on a growing number of programs to guide seniors into the digital age.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Forget iPads or Smartphones, the digital divide can come down to something as seemingly simple as a camera.

Pamela Norr, in Bend, Oregon, discovered many seniors have been given digital cameras by their children.

PAMELA NORR: They were going around town taking all these great pictures that they wanted to send to their family members, and couldn't figure out how to connect the USB port or take out the SIM card.

LUDDEN: Norr heads the Central Oregon Council on Aging. Her own elder parents often need tech help. And the light bulb went off one day as Norr, yet again, put her parents in touch with - who better - her teenage kids.

NORR: So I thought, you know, if parents need it, I think probably other seniors need it, too.

LUDDEN: And so was born TECH - Teenager Elder Computer Help. Eighty-four-year-old Sigrid Scully signed up because she was struggling to stay connected with far-flung family.

SIGRID SCULLY: My kids were not returning calls and they don't write letters. They are so knowledgeable about texting and email, and so I needed to get to know how to do that.

LUDDEN: Scully worried she'd never catch on. She'd read a computer manual once, but didn't understand words like icon or cookies. She says her teen tutor was personable and used plain language.

SCULLY: So many teenagers think that seniors are just old people that don't know anything. And actually, the camaraderie and the knowledge that we can transmit to one another is so wonderful and so helpful. And I had that feeling with this class.

TUCKER RAMPTON: It has made me think about what life was like without Facebook and the Internet.

LUDDEN: Tucker Rampton is 15, and has helped train more than a dozen Oregon seniors. He's been surprised to have to explain email - something he thought everyone knew. Then again, a lot of seniors ask him about Twitter, which he admits he knows nothing about. Rampton says teaching tech to seniors has changed his perspective.

RAMPTON: Well, I think it's a very good idea to work on your patience. And, you know, be more understanding when it comes to what's going on in their minds.

LUDDEN: At Pace University in New York, college students tutor seniors in local retirement homes. They're prepped with sensitivity training.

PROFESSOR JEAN COPPOLA: So they get to feel what it's like to be 70, 80, 90 years old, because they wear specially prepared glasses that give them different visual impairments.

LUDDEN: Program director Jean Coppola also has them do things like tape two fingers together, to simulate the effects of arthritis or a stroke, then try to navigate a mouse. By the time they're at the computer with an elder, Coppola says, they're not frustrated at all.

COPPOLA: They'll say something like 100 times because they've worn cotton balls or earplugs in their ear. And they understand that they have to speak up, articulate their words.

LUDDEN: Coppola says the whole thing is a bonding experience for both generations. Applause often breaks out the first time a senior receives an email. Some have been able to see new grandchildren for the first time, through emailed photos.

Pamela Norr, in Oregon, says young trainers also gain new confidence from their interaction with seniors.

NORR: They're not criticizing me for the way I'm dressing or clucking their tongue. They're actually respecting me for the knowledge base that I have.

LUDDEN: Perhaps most unexpected: Some teen trainers and seniors have even become friends. They keep in touch long after class ends - through Facebook, of course.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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