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Seniors Increasingly Embrace Consumer Electronics

NEW YORK – One in eight Americans is 65 or older and, as a whole, senior citizens, the country’s fastestgrowing demographic, are relying on technology to stay connected, stay healthy and live independently.

According to a study by Pew Research, more than half of all seniors are Internet users, 47 percent have broadband access in their residence, 88 percent email, more than 70 percent use a cellphone, and a quarter use social-networking sites.

Aging baby boomers, who are retiring in droves, have a basic familiarity with technology through workplace use, and there is less of a fear of technology than that of previous generations of seniors; however, familiarity does not necessarily lead to comfort with technology. Many in the senior population find traditional electronic devices difficult to use. Small cellphone buttons, even smaller type on screens, difficulty with setup and troubleshooting are some of the “frustration factors” seniors with technology cited in a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) of its members.

“Technology can provide many avenues for people to pursue interests, connect with friends and family, or just have fun,” AARP’s chief information officer Terry Bradwell told TWICE, explaining the organization’s TEK Pavilion initiative. TEK stands for Technology, Education and Knowledge and AARP is offering free hands-on training to seniors who want to learn how to use consumer electronics, computers and social media to enrich their lives.

The TEK Pavilion is being rolled out at senior-living expos and trade shows, and AARP has launched an online Social Media Training Center to familiarize seniors with such sites as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as well as popular blogging sites.

The TEK Pavilion is one more way AARP is positioning itself as the go-to resource for older people eager to harness the latest technology. Since 2010, the organization’s book division has brought out seven new titles on seniors and technology.

AARP also launched “Takei’s Take,” a YouTube series hosted by 76-year-old George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on the original Star Trek series. His mission: to boldly cut through confusing jargon and industry lingo, giving older people clear, trustworthy guidance on how to use technology to their best advantage. So far AARP’s initiatives are proving to be a success. Bradwell recalled an attendee at a recent event thanking him for “not making me feel stupid” after Bradwell answered her technology query.

AARP is not alone in its efforts. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has taken up the cause with its CEA Foundation. The charitable organization has the mission to link seniors and people with disabilities with technology that improves their lives.

Also working behind the scenes is the Aging Technology Alliance (AgeTek), whose more than 60 member companies offer a universe of technology products designed to facilitate senior independent living. These include home-monitoring systems, medicine dispensers, one-button communication systems and emergency-response devices.