Empowering a Modern Life: Improving Senior Digital Literacy in San Francisco

Improving Senior Digital Literacy in the Bay Area Older adults today are far more tech-savvy than they’re given credit for. While the cliche is that they feel uneasy around the latest tech gadgets, many know their way around a smartphone and tablet as well as anyone. Nearly 60% of older adults use the internet regularly, and almost 80% own a mobile phone—and these numbers have been increasing steadily in recent years. Both age-friendly and tech-savvy, San Francisco boasts plenty of tech happenings right here in town. And it’s our job as caregivers to help our aging loved ones feel integrated into this fast-developing digital world by ensuring they’re taking full advantage of everything that computer technology has to offer—and, if needed, by helping them become more digitally literate.

What Aging Adults Gain from Digital Literacy

There’s a wealth of benefit in digital literacy for aging adults: the internet can create a true sense of community for older adults who are aging in place and perhaps live alone. It can lessen isolation and depression, and enhance your loved one’s sense of independence and agency. There are numerous areas online that offer connection and communication, such as online support groups, forums, and social media. And being able to stay in touch with close family and friends who live far away through Skype or email can have a significant impact on many older adults’ emotional well-being. Access to online health and medical resources, meanwhile, is equally empowering for older adults and caregivers alike; apps for medication management and health monitoring are great advancements for home healthcare.

Nearly half of people over 65 in the US have internet at home—and as that number continues to increase, more older adults will be able to benefit from digital communication. When you know how to use them, there’s no doubt that online resources, digital devices, and communication tools can help to improve the lives of older adults:

Local Resources That Boost Digital Literacy in Older Adults

San Francisco, home to a vibrant aging population, offers a wealth of senior-oriented programming, with digital literacy being one of the fastest growing areas. The roots of this can be traced back to 2009 when the Obama Administration created more funding for broadband infrastructure, computer centers, and training programs. This led to San Francisco being given grants to start digital literacy programs for seniors, which eventually evolved into the creation of SF Connected. Today, it is the city’s resource mecca of digital literacy for older adults. They offer free computer and technology training throughout 54 locations in low-income housing facilities and senior centers.

Free community classes in San Francisco

Your aging loved one can attend free community classes in various locations across the city, where they’ll be taught to use computers by friendly trainers and volunteers. The classes are wide-ranging, from basic computer skills to internet safety to fancy software, with examples of topics including Google maps, typing, online coupons, Skype, YouTube, Craigslist, social media, graphic design, video editing, and more. Check out the list of classes here and their detailed calendar for a schedule of classes offered throughout the city.

There are some remarkably moving stories from local seniors who’ve benefitted from these digital literacy classes around town. On its website, SF Connected offers some lovely anecdotes about the positive effects that courses have on local community members. This one, about an older woman who’d never used a computer before, is especially touching:

“Lelani had no clue about computers and didn’t even think about using one. When she found out that she could look up famous great singers, her eyes lit up. The instructor showed her how to look up the site. She saw and listened to the great Nat King Cole.”

Not long after, Lelani got a home computer of her own and started using the internet regularly. She still goes to basic computer skills classes every Friday to learn more. That sort of progress and enthusiasm is what community classes like these can create.

Local community events and conferences

Many organizations in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area also host important community events on digital literacy for older adults. This is a great way to generate both excitement and knowledge around the current needs of the aging community in terms of digital literacy. For example, the Bay Area-based Community Technology Network (CTN) recently held a Tech Teach-in at a local library, where they paired young volunteers from start-up companies with local seniors to help them learn to use smartphones and laptop computers. These types of events offer an intergenerational experience for both groups, as well as practical hands-on learning.

Additionally, there is a slew of conferences, webinars, and expos relating to age and technology held throughout the year in San Francisco—so older adults living in the city have year-round access to gatherings related to this important topic. Events range from the annual Senior Tech Expo to Institute on Aging’s Aging and Technology Conference and Internet Essentials workshops, as well as Webinars for Older Americans. Programming like this aims to bring together the community—both young and old—to discuss challenges, innovations, and ideas pertaining to aging and digital literacy.

Additional Online Help to Master the Basics

It’s possible that your loved one isn’t able to make it out to programs around the city due to mobility issues. If that’s the case, they can still easily learn tech skills at home from some of the many online courses that help older adults learn basic internet skills. Similarly, these at-home alternatives can offer aging adults the chance to brush up on their skills before trying a more advanced course in the city.

  • Eldy
    Download this free software onto their PC to make it as easy-to-use as possible. Eldy swaps the regular user interface with a simplified version that anyone, including people who’ve never used a computer before, can get a handle on almost instantly.
  • Skillful Senior
    This interactive website features tutorials for an aging adult to learn computer and internet basics. It’s ideal for older adults who are just starting out using computers and want some assistance, or a quick reminder of how things work. The tutorials can be done alone or with guidance from a caregiver.
  • Microsoft Accessibility
    This is a handy resource for older adults with sight problems or other types of impairment that make it difficult to use computers and their software. It offers a large selection of tools, including increasing the font size on-screen, voice typing, and other features to help your loved one use Microsoft programs with greater ease.

Whether your aging loved one is already a whiz at computers or just getting started, San Francisco offers a variety of opportunities for older adults to embrace digital literacy. With so many local resources to enhance aging adults’ tech skills, there’s no reason for your loved one not to start making the most of digital technology in this city. Learning how to use new technology can help older adults live better and more fulfilling lives. You can help your aging loved one by pointing them toward resources at their level—and accompanying them for support. They’ll no doubt love San Francisco even more when they begin diving into its tech-savvy side.

If you’re unsure how to offer your aging loved one the best support, Institute on Aging provides a wide range of compassion-based resources and services to help. Contact us today to discover more.


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Institute on Aging

Committed to offering thoughtful discussions and resources to older adults, their families, and their caregivers.

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