Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Think of the iPad for Your Elderly Parents, Boomers

I know that many Baby Boomers are still in the sandwich generation, caring for loved ones who now are elderly. It's been interesting to me to find out that some of us are using technology to enhance the quality of life of older people whose minds might be shining as brightly as ever, but who have some physical limitation that keeps them tethered to home or even in a nursing home.

In the past, it was difficult to envision packing mom or dad's expensive and fairly heavy laptop with them to go to assisted living, and impossible to figure out how to get Internet access for the laptop. However, with the advent of the iPad older people are bringing their connections to the outside world inside with them.

I recently watched a YouTube video and a news report showing a 99 year old woman with glaucoma rediscovering her love of reading and writing poetry using an iPad which lets her see the letters because of the contrasting screen. I also had been following some posts on the Boomer social networking site eons ( by a devoted daughter, screen named Techie44, who wanted to keep in touch with her 94 year-old mom even though the daughter would be spending the winter many miles away. I contacted Techie44 and asked if I could share her story and she graciously agreed.

In the beginning, Techie44 wasn't sure if the iPad would work for her mom, but she thought that her mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is in a nursing home, might be able to master it. I read through Techie44's posts as she weighed the pros and cons of getting what was then a brand new device for her mom. One thing was telling, however. Her mom was already familiar with email and wanted to have her email with her in the nursing home.

After showing her mother the family's iPad and how it worked, Techie44 ordered one for her with Wi-fi and 3G and set up her mother's email accounts to sync with the iPad. She also sent her mom some email so she could practice replying. Thinking about what would make her mom happy, she also loaded the iPad with the Christmas and classical music that her mother loves and put in pictures of the family, as well as some photos of the family camping vacations, since that's what her mom used to love to do.

Significantly, Techie44 signed up for Apple's MobileMe, an application that keeps mobile devices in sync. This was suggested to her by one of the other eons posters and it turned out to be very important. The iPad is the kind of device that can be picked up easily and just "walk out the door" of a nursing home. MobileMe has a feature called "Find my iPhone/iPad" and if someone walked away with the device, it could let Techie44 know where it is.

In an email, Techie44 told me she put a sticker on the outside of the iPad notifying everyone that it could be tracked and that she demonstrated how she could track the device to the people at the nurses station. She also told them that she would prosecute if the device were stolen.  Although she didn't tell me this, I expect she was hoping word of mouth would spread, and anyone thinking of walking away with the device would be forewarned. She also took the added precaution of selecting a pass code her mom could remember, so no one else could borrow the device.

Now I've always contended that MobileMe should be free, and not the $99/year product it is, but I'm willing to say that in this case it's worth the money. An added benefit of  MobileMe is that Techie44 can link her mom up to a "cloud" photo gallery, and the family can update and add pictures to it  from wherever they are, without having to load them directly onto the device. This was also pointed out by another eons poster.

So how is it going? Techie44's mom has arthritis, so hitting all the right icons and keys on the iPad is somewhat of a challenge, but she is managing, and enjoying the device. She does most of her typing herself but an aide helps her type long letters.  She's listened to her music on the device, but had a bit of a problem figuring out how to shut it off. Thinking ahead, Techie44 showed someone at the nursing home the ins and outs of the iPad so they could help her.

In addition, Techie44 signed her mom up for the Facebook app, so now "Granny" can follow her grand nieces and nephews on the social networking site. She also downloaded an app called iFish Pond that will help her mom pretend she is sitting by a pond when the weather gets cold.

Techie44 says that she made the right choice in getting her mom an iPad. A computer would  have had to sit on a table and her mother would have had to deliberately go to it. The iPad is easy for her mom to carry with her, and the 3G wireless solves the problem of getting Internet access in a nursing home, something that could prove to be nearly impossible.

One last thing: Techie44 says that the iPad has made a tremendous difference in the quality of her mother's life. She is connected to relatives she hadn't heard from for years and looks forward to receiving her email and photos from her family.  You can't find a more ringing endorsement than that.

I know the post above makes it look like I endorse the iPad or that I'm employed by Apple, but I assure you I am not. I simply believe that this genre of tablet has opened up a new era of computing and is beneficial for society. Many, many tablets are coming into the market soon, but right now Apple essentially stands alone. If the upcoming Linux Android tablets are as easy to use as the iPad, as this author predicts, they too will gain traction with the elderly and will add to the societal goal of helping them stay connected.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A New Way to Back Up Important Files; Try DropBox, Boomers

First, I want to apologize for the length of time between blog posts. As you know, I returned to school to get my Master's degree, and now I'm working on my thesis. The deadline for the thesis is nearing and I've been spending a lot of hours working on it, and so I've neglected this blog.  Today I pulled myself away from that work because I found something I think will be really interesting to most Boomers.

Specifically, I came across an article called The 25 Worst High-Tech Habits (and how to fix them) in The Washington Post  online and believe it or not it's written in a way most of us can understand. Getting to the gist of it, the author, who is with PC World, says there are certain things that people do when they have computers and high tech gadgets that are not in their best interest. I had to laugh when I saw the list, because a few of my bad habits are on there.

The very first thing the author deals with is Avoiding Security Software. Some people think they can just be careful on the web, and they won't get infected by all the viruses out there, but it's really impossible to surf that carefully. Many sites that appear to be legitimate aren't. However, I do understand why some people won't put up with security software. I've found that my security software sometimes interferes with some of the other programs I want to run. And my software often does a mini-scan of my systems when I'm in the middle of something important. All I can do is wait for it to finish because it slows down the entire machine. However, you should run some kind of security software on your computer, Boomers.

The author also takes to task people who don't back up their computer, something with which I can relate. The author has a wake up call for those of us who don't back up. "All hard drives crash eventually. All of them. Yours will too." The article provides a link to a simple guide to get started with backup, although I looked at it and didn't find the guide so simple. I haven't found backup all that simple period. Every time I purchase a hard drive to back up my data, something happens to it that I can't undo. I have to go running to my computer savvy son to help me out. Still backing up is important, and I encourage you to back up your important docs. For another point of view on this matter check out the web site, and my competitor, BoomerTechTalk (, and their article Backing Up is Not Hard to Do.

While I don't back up my disk as much as I should, I've found a way to protect my important documents (including the thesis I've been working on so diligently that has kept me from updating this blog more frequently) by using a program for my PC called Dropbox.( Once again, I have my son to thank for introducing me to this ingenious app.  When you arrive at the Dropbox site, you are greeted by this:
Have you ever seen anything so simple on a web page? When you click to watch the video, you get a very good explanation of how to use this application, which is simple and smart. Basically, you are dragging documents you've created to the Dropbox folder, which is a kind of locked box that only you can access. No matter where you are, you can open your Dropbox and get your important documents from this locked box. One word of caution though, be sure to remember your password. (I'll have more on keeping track of passwords in a future blog post.)

So if you are working on a particularly important document, you can store a copy in the Dropbox, and if your computer crashes, the document will be there, accessible from the website. Dropbox even keeps the document updated for you, so you don't have to worry that the version in your computer is different from the one you are accessing at your hotel or, in my case, on the school computer. You can also download the app for the iPhone and iPad and open your documents on these devices.  Many Boomers would probably be worried about the security of this app, but Dropbox has thought of this and says it uses " military grade encryption methods to both transfer and store your data."

Well, I'm heading back to work on my thesis now, Boomers. I'll check back in to this blog as soon as I can.