Technology use and connection to modern society

Technology use has the potential to integrate older adults into society not only as participants in the culture of technology, but also more fully as participants in broader society. It provides them with opportunities that can be social as well as economic. As discussed previously, it is well documented that the move into a CCRC, especially an assisted living or a skilled nursing facility, often produces an increase in feelings of social and spatial isolation. Therefore, exclusion from technology use becomes yet another level of feeling detached from others and broader society. In many ways, it represents an exclusion from information, especially in the information-based society of today. Residents are excluded from the abundance of digital information that is available to others if they lack access or training or have a condition that inhibits technology use. They find themselves in a "technological catch 22." Because of their age and health status, they stand to benefit greatly from technology use. Yet, it may be precisely because of their age and health status that they do not use technology.

The exclusion from information may inhibit participating in other aspects of society, including political, economic, and cultural aspects, because of the global use of the Internet as the premier information resource. Over time, this will become even more problematic as technology use is necessitated by practically every part of life. Many of the "younger old" adults have had limited exposure to technology and thus may be impacted as they transition into some level of continuing care over the next decade. Beyond the social implications, lack of full access to health information could be a product of nonuse or limited use or access.

One study examined how older women perceive the association between modern society and modern technology (Rosenthal, 2008). The older women in the study who used a computer and the Internet described their usage as an avenue to stay connected to the modern world. Other researchers have found that while it is generally believed that technology use by older adults in various forms of continuing care is both an essential and necessary component of well-being for older adults, it is, sadly, not often a part of their lives.

Older adults can feel a sense of detachment from the modern world and perceive that they are not able to become a part of that world. To them it is unfamiliar and intimidating; they do not see themselves as having the capacity to join the rest of society. They may believe they are too old to learn or may not see the usefulness of technology for where they are in life. Because of the difficulties in learning associated with many aspects of the aging process, they may not believe the benefits outweigh the effort expended in the learning process.

The discomfort residents of CCRCs might feel in learning about or using the Internet may make it more difficult for them to see the necessity and prospective uses of computers and the Internet. The belief they no longer possess the mental acuity required for learning, and especially something that they have no previous context for, can increase their sense of detachment from the process of learning. Feelings of alienation can occur when older adults, who have chosen to avoid usage, are around younger users for whom usage is a necessary and constant part of their life.

Programs that are designed with the challenges and limitations faced by older adults in mind can be effective in helping them to overcome their perceptions of being too old to learn something new. They can, and do, learn to become successful and proficient computer and Internet users. Older adults in continuing care can feel part of the modern world and stay up-to-date with world happenings and changes in addition to staying connected to family and friends. Use of the Internet can potentially help older adults in long-term care feel up-to-date with what is going on in the world outside their CCRC and expose them to new ideas and opportunities, as well as allowing them a means of keeping in touch with others. Technology offers CCRC residents the opportunity to become active participants rather than detached observers.

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