Technologies to facilitate the learning process and increase student success


Computers and the Elderly

Grandma iChat 4

Not only students and younger generations use electronics on a daily basis; increasingly, those over 65 who grew up without much of modern technology are learning to use computers.  This can have long-term physical and mental health benefits, as several studies have suggested that elderly people who use computers can delay the onset of dementia.

I recently purchased my 82 year-old grandmother an iMac, primarily because I saw her mental capabilities begin to deteriorate.  It was the first time my grandmother had ever used a computer.  She had refused to purchase a computer in the past. I countered her resistance by purchasing her an iMac on my own, driving it to her house, and setting it up without her knowing.  Once it was set up in her living room, I said: “Grandma, see that new computer? It is the only way you will be able to find me soon. I will no longer being using the phone at all in the near future.* If you want to reach me, Skype and e-mail is the way to find me.”

On Safari’s top bookmark bar, I bookmarked six sites for her to explore: Google, CNN, The MET, Lincoln Center, my underwater photography website. and my Sister’s art site. I made it easy for her to find a few select websites, but then challenged her to learn to find more.

I also provided my Grandma with a one year “Apple One on One” gift card and left the rest up to her. I provided some assistance via desktop sharing (the most common problem was the disappearance of an icon from the dock or taskbar), but I purposely held back a lot of other requests for help to encourage her to become self sufficient.

While it took Grandma over a year to become self-sufficient, she can now e-mail and surf the web without assistance.  Over time, I have seen incredible improvements in my grandmother’s alertness.

Not only does the use of technology deter dementia, it aids mental health to stave off depression, a common occurrence in the elderly.  Technology allows people to communicate with their families who may not live nearby, and to pursue interests they may not be able to handle physically anymore.  Thus, my grandmother uses e-mail and Skype to communicate with her children and grandchildren who live all over the country.  She loves the arts and to travel, but is no longer physically capable of easily getting to museums and walking around for several hours, let alone travel overseas. Instead, she visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre and Russian Ballet right from her den. Last night I found out that my Grandmother uses Netflix for movie rentals; I was shocked.

My Grandmother originally told me she did not want a computer under any circumstance. Today, she does not know how she lived without one. I am happy with my decision to purchase her one. My Grandmother is a major part of my life, and to be able to give her a gift so special and life altering made the whole process well worth my time and effort.

I write this blog not from the perspective of a professor who works with technology, but as someone with 10 years of critical care experience and a former line officer and Deputy Chief for Advanced Life Support and Training of New York State’s largest all-volunteer EMS agency.

Here is some additional reading:

*To clarify: I stopped using my cellphone to talk when I got the iPhone. The iPhone is a crappy phone and using the phone was too frustrating, so I started texting and e-mailing instead. Overtime, this practice led to me almost never communicate by a cellphone call. Today I use an average of 30 minutes a month on my cellphone and most of that time is my doorman calling to tell me my food has arrived. I use an average of 2000 SMS messages a month and receive/send over 500 e-mails a week. I do not have a landline at home and have a policy of absolutely no voicemail on any device. I even went as far to turn off my voicemail at JJC. People can’t leave me a voicemail even if they want to. Today I received my iPad 3G, I would like to dump having a cellphone altogether, but I don’t know if this is realistic. Time will tell…

by: Adam Scott Wandt with Michelle Stein


  1. hack network

    my grandmother is 82 years old, too. She only knows how to use her cellphone.Although she knows how to turn on the computer, but she don’t know how to use it.So she often ask me to turn on the computer for her to read news.So funny!

  2. Judy-Lynne Peters

    You also wrote this as a loving grandson who used to technology to not only improve his grandmother’s quality of life but enlarged her world exponentially and brought it into her home as well. I applaud you for giving her the world and the family she was most certainly missing.

    My 86-year-old uncle had a good time playing with my iPad this afternoon, playing Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and reading a bit of P.G. Wodehouse. Next week, I’ll download some Shakespeare and find another app or two for him to enjoy. I’m thinking he’d like the Major League Baseball app. It’s $15, but the time we’ll spend together looking up the AL stats will be priceless.

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