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A study by the Pew Research Center found that technology use among Americans 65 and over has grown in recent years:
- Smartphone ownership climbed from 18% in 2013 to 42% in 2017.
- Internet usage with broadband technology rose from 14% in 2000 to over 65% in 2017
- Tablets were owned by 18% in 2013, but this increased to 32% in 2017
The same study asked for a reaction to the statement, "When I get a new electronic device, I usually need someone else to set it up or show me how to use it." Of the total respondents:
- 48% said the statement described them "Very Well,"
- 25% said it described them "Somewhat Well."
Those responses would be no surprise to younger, more tech-savvy family members. It's common today for older adults to call upon the under 65 generations to help troubleshoot "computer" problems. Older adults often were introduced to computers, smartphones, and other devices later in life. Lacking lifelong experience with such technology, some seniors find these innovations baffling.
With the onslaught of COVID-19, the situation for technology-challenged seniors worsened for two reasons. First, demand skyrocketed for high-tech products and services. Most senior living facilities severely curtailed visitors to protect their vulnerable populations. As a result, many seniors turned to technology to stay in touch with family and friends, shop, find entertainment, or keep up with current events.
Second, the ability of relatives or friends to provide in-person technical support evaporated due to visiting restrictions. Facility staff members rarely can help since they must prioritize essential direct care work and are not trained to troubleshoot technical problems. As a result, older users of technology become frustrated by even the most fundamental glitches.
One option for coping with this dilemma may be to enlist the help of an information technology (IT) support company. These range from large organizations like Best Buy's Geek Squad to smaller, local companies. One such company is Premier IT, headquartered in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Premier IT offers information technology support services to businesses and individuals. In a conversation with Premier IT President Alan Altepeter, he described how an IT support company can help senior technology users.
Since a technician cannot visit in person, the company securely connects with the user's device over the internet. Like a Zoom video meeting, the technician can work on the device as if they were in the room seeing the screen and typing on the keyboard. The user and the technician can talk on the phone while the device is being serviced.
This process is enabled by special software that the IT company loads on the user's device. After ensuring the device is connected to Wi-Fi, all the user needs to do is click an icon on the screen and the technician takes over. As Altepeter says, "The software securely connects us to an individual's device and allows us to look at their screen and manipulate the cursor and keyboard as necessary. We're operating the device as if we're standing in front of it."
This process dramatically improves the ability of the technician to troubleshoot problems. The alternative would be to diagnose the problem in a telephone call and direct the user on fixing the issue. Working with a less technically experienced person makes this a formidable task. "Anybody that's ever helped Grandma over the phone recognizes that sometimes things get mis-clicked," says Altepeter. "They get a little bit lost and have a hard time communicating what they're seeing compared to what you're expecting them to see."
Altepeter notes that the software with full remote control does not work on every kind of device. "The remote software that allows us to actually take a look at the screen and manipulate the clicks is absolutely tool number one. Tool number two is more of a view-only version, but it tends to work on a wider variety of devices, including Apple's iPad, iPhones, and Android devices. It doesn't allow us to interact directly with the device, but it does at least allow us to see what they're seeing and guide them appropriately."
The Human Touch
Aside from the remote control software, Altepeter emphasizes the human aspect of IT support. "When you're interacting with the tech support person, it seems that the default is, if not hostile, at least confrontational." He believes that tech support personnel must have a caring, helpful attitude, especially with older users. "One of the founding principles [of Premier IT] is that we don't hire egos here. Everybody who works here is patient, understanding, familiar with what they're talking about and present themselves in a way that defuses anxiety."
Setting Things Up Ahead of Time
Another step in making technology more manageable for an older user is setting up their device correctly before being used for the first time. The IT support company would configure the machine to simplify what the user sees on the screen. "It's efficient because we can do it in no time," says Altepeter. "We're not spending the client's time during the setup. It's better all the way around."
Ways to simplify the device could be to minimize the number of icons and make them bigger. Also, users can be locked out of areas on the device that may cause trouble if changes are made. Altepeter says, "We can lock down the settings that people shouldn't be in so they don't have to worry about inadvertently making unintended changes."
The Cost of Convenience
Technology support delivered by family members seems to be free of charge. Or is it, especially in the age of COVID? Trying to help an older loved one over the phone can be frustrating for both parties.
Altepeter's firm charges a flat fee of $99 for up to a 60-minute troubleshooting session assuming that:
- The remote control software is installed
- There is a satisfactory Wi-Fi connection at the user's end
- The remote control help session is scheduled in advance
- The IT support company has access to the user's passwords
"We can justify a flat rate for a set amount of time if we can be efficient. That means having passwords ahead of time or at least available to us," says Altepeter. Such sensitive information is securely stored at the IT support company and only used with the user's permission.
Keeping an older loved one's electronic devices up and running is more important than ever. The goal is to fix the user's problems as quickly as possible since technology represents their link to the outside world and much more. Retaining an IT support company to make this happen would be money well spent.