How old is too old to use a computer? Ask Colorado, and they'll tell you it might be 109. That's because one of their nursing home residents, Mamie Legg, is io8 and regularly sends audio e-mails back and forth with elementary school children in the state. Mamie is blind, and gets plenty of help from an enthusiastic activities staff to make the program work, but she is helping prove the point that technology has the ability to help with the isolation from the outside world that often accompanies life in long-term care (LTC) settings.
Statistics released in recent years by SeniorNet, the Pew Research Center for People and Press, and others continue to show that older adults are among the fastest-growing populations taking advantage of the Internet. However, these studies usually focus on healthy, independent older adults who are physically and cognitively able to deal with the nuances of modern-day computers. Those who are possibly most in need of staying in touch, staying connected and staying mentally active are older adults confined to nursing homes, adult daycare centers, assisted living communities and other long-term care settings. Dozens of communities in Colorado are changing the lives of residents in nursing homes across the state through the use of adaptive technology that allows people with a wide range of abilities to use computers.
Adaptive keyboards and trackball mouses, touch-screen monitors, adaptive workstations, visual magnification software and wireless mobile computer systems are a few of the devices that residents of long-term care facilities are using to take advantage of the health and connectivity benefits of the Internet. Our company, It's Never 2 Late, based in Denver, is among the few firms around the United States bringing these technologies to LTC programs. Besides the computer labs we've set up in Colorado, we are developing projects in Arizona, Illinois, New York and Florida.
The Christian Living Campus (CLC), based in Denver, was the first nursing home in Colorado that we worked with. After some of CLC's more adventurous residents expressed an interest in sending e-mails, Troy Dunning, CLC activity director, began investigating ways to make the experience possible. She eventually contacted It's Never 2 Late, which had experience with adaptive computing.
"Initially there was a tremendous amount of skepticism," Dunning told me recently, "but as the residents were able to see how this new equipment could allow them to stay in closer touch with their families, it became worth the risk." Mary Grace Smigiel, CLC's administrator, said she was not surprised at the success of the computer program. "Everyone likes to put the residents in a box of what they can and cannot do. If they're given the right tools-and treated with dignitythe results will speak for themselves."
The adaptive labs we set up for LTC clients include training programs that involve meetings with residents, family members and facility staff, plus approximately 8o hours of training over a threeto four-month period. After classes have finished, we hold a graduation ceremony. Prices for facilities vary depending on what adaptive devices clients request, but the typical package totals $ i o,ooo to $15,000, including hardware, adaptive equipment and training.
Dozens of other programs in the state have also developed adaptive technology labs for the older adults they serve. …