Youth to bring seniors and technology together in St Catharines

by Don Redmond on August 3, 2021

Anyone with elderly parents or grandparents knows the struggles of trying to set them up with a laptop or desktop computer. The simple fact is they are often afraid of technology.

Given that the internet has really only been around for 20 or so years, it’s a skill that many seniors simply never bothered to learn.

The City of St Catharines is hoping to bridge the gap between seniors and technology, partnering with a non-profit organization to help eliminate the digital divide by providing older adults technology training, using an intergenerational volunteer model.

In cooperation with Cyber-Seniors, the City will connect seniors with digital mentors for technology training, with the aim of heightening their cyber skill, allowing them to keep socially connected and engaged, while also forging a unique connection with youth volunteers. The City’s program is set to launch on August 9.

“Cyber-Seniors is a great way to help older adults get connected and feel more comfortable with the Internet,” said Koby Vanyo, programs supervisor for the City of St. Catharines.

“As we’ve seen during the pandemic, online access also became essential to stay informed and helped individuals feel socially connected while still safe and independent.”

Indeed, the pandemic was likely the hardest on seniors without internet skills as they were more isolated from their friends than ever.

While at this time, the program will be delivered virtually, and residents will have to rely on using their own devices (a smartphone, tablet or laptop will work) and Internet connection, long term, the goal will be for the City’s Older Adult Centres to offer access to technology and provide in-person training on laptops, tablets and other devices.

For more information on Cyber-Seniors, including how to connect with a mentor and more on the programs and services, visit

Help the electronically challenged navigate smart technology

JULY 15, 2021 AT 3:30 PM

A few years ago, a video showing two teenage boys trying to figure out how to use a rotary phone went viral. On the flip side, many older adults can’t figure out how to use a smartphone, let alone tablets, computers, and other smart devices.

A survey conducted in September and October 2020 by AARP found that older adults cited cost, knowledge gaps, and privacy concerns as top reasons they may be hesitant to adopt the technology.

Fifty-four percent admitted they want a better grasp of the devices they’ve acquired, while 37% said they lacked confidence when using the technology that has otherwise become so much more prevalent in their lives.

Iris Stein, a Rosie on the House listener and mother of our staff writer, Susan, explains why she finds smart devices “somewhat” difficult to use and frustrating.

“I’m afraid. I don’t know if I have hit the wrong button, or if I click on the wrong spot, what do I do? I’m afraid I might lose something,” says Iris.

“I’m just not computer savvy. I’m continually learning how to use my smartphone. I am more freewheeling with that than with my laptop.”

Susan and Iris recently took a road trip and utilized Google Maps to find their way through Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, though they did have maps from AAA on hand as a backup.

Technology frustration isn’t just for seniors. “Despite his use of a remote control since puberty, my husband, James, still can’t grasp how to record a show or movie on the DVR or access live streaming on TV,” Susan points out.

How you can make the smart transition

Today we can control the temperature of our homes, monitor security, be reminded to take medication, flip on the lights, and so much more from our smartphones. Technology is designed to make our lives easier and it can once you get the basics of your smart device down.

Start small. If you currently have a flip phone and just want to use social media, email, surf the web, and video chat, buy a “beginner” device. Consumer Cellular has some good options with affordable pricing.

Lou Nappe, Susan’s uncle, is tech-savvy. “His family was the first one I knew who had a home computer (probably a Commodore 64) and an Atari,” says Susan.

A retired commercial printer, Lou, had to keep up with technology for his business. As for those new to smart technology, he encourages people to embrace it.

“Don’t be scared or panic before you attempt anything. Explore your own computer (device). There are so many YouTube instructions on every possible subject. Watch them and learn how to use your device.”

Of course, the first hurdle to overcome could be knowing how to get to YouTube in the first place. Click here or enter in your computer’s browser. Type “how to use (your device)” in the search menu. A cornucopia of videos will populate.

There are also a variety of services available to guide you.

Get Set Up – An online place for active older adults to learn, connect and share with peers in small intimate classes.

Generations on Line — An easy-to-read, large-print click-through tutorial that takes readers through the steps of mastering devices and applications (apps). Plus, they have a tutorial for accessing YouTube!

Cyber-Seniors — Pairs older adults with high school or college students who serve as technology mentors. First-time device users can call 844-217-3057 and be coached over the phone until they’re comfortable pursuing online training.

Senior Planet — Senior Planet, in partnership with Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), harnesses technology to change the way we age. Their courses, programs, and activities help seniors learn new skills, save money, get in shape, and make new friends. Their initiative, Aging Connected, is focused on bringing 1 million older adults online by the end of 2022.

As you become accustomed to and enjoy technology, upgrade your device(s) to complement the apps you want to use.

Help someone make the smart transition

Technology moves quickly. Many people can’t keep up with it. If your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, or anyone else needs help, and you have the knowledge (and patience), lend them a hand (or stylus).

Share the resources mentioned above. Better yet, visit in person and walk them through step-by-step. The irony here is while teaching someone how to use smart technology, they will be writing down the information.

It can be hard to make the transition. Iris bought her “big girl” phone two years ago. There are still apps that she is hesitant to use on her own. But Susan is just a call or text away.

“I am moving in the right direction,” says Iris. “Between my phone and Kindle, I use my weather, news, and library apps, check email and voicemail, do my banking, and download books.”

Video chat has not yet been mastered. Baby steps.

“We take our time and walk through the processes as often as she needs to,” says Susan.

“Mom taught me many more skills (such as using utensils) than my teaching her how to use technology. So, what if during our trip, I found her writing down the directions that Google Maps displayed on her phone?” laughs Susan.

Some habits are hard to break.

Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3 FM. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions and comments.

Calming Computer Jitters: Help for Seniors Who Aren’t Tech-Savvy

By Judith Graham

JUNE 24, 2021

Six months ago, Cindy Sanders, 68, bought a computer so she could learn how to email and have Zoom chats with her great-grandchildren.

It’s still sitting in a box, unopened.

“I didn’t know how to set it up or how to get help,” said Sanders, who lives in Philadelphia and has been extremely careful during the coronavirus pandemic.

Like Sanders, millions of older adults are newly motivated to get online and participate in digital offerings after being shut inside, hoping to avoid the virus, for more than a year. But many need assistance and aren’t sure where to get it.

A recent survey from AARP, conducted in September and October, highlights the quandary. It found that older adults boosted technology purchases during the pandemic but more than half (54%) said they needed a better grasp of the devices they’d acquired. Nearly 4 in 10 people (37%) admitted they weren’t confident about using these technologies.

Sanders, a retired hospital operating room attendant, is among them. “Computers put the fear in me,” she told me, “but this pandemic, it’s made me realize I have to make a change and get over that.”

With a daughter’s help, Sanders plans to turn on her new computer and figure out how to use it by consulting materials from Generations on Line. Founded in 1999, the Philadelphia organization specializes in teaching older adults about digital devices and navigating the internet. Sanders recently discovered it through a local publication for seniors.

Before the pandemic, Generations on Line provided free in-person training sessions at senior centers, public housing complexes, libraries and retirement centers. When those programs shut down, it created an online curriculum for smartphones and tablets ( and new tutorials on Zoom and telehealth as well as a “family coaching kit” to help older adults with technology. All are free and available to people across the country.

Demand for Generations on Line’s services rose tenfold during the pandemic as many older adults became dangerously isolated and cut off from needed services.

Those who had digital devices and knew how to use them could do all kinds of activities online: connect with family and friends, shop for groceries, order prescriptions, take classes, participate in telehealth sessions and make appointments to get covid vaccines. Those without were often at a loss — with potentially serious consequences.

“I have never described my work as a matter of life or death before,” said Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, an advocacy group for expanding broadband access. “But that’s what happened during the pandemic, especially when it came to vaccines.”

Other organizations specializing in digital literacy for older adults are similarly seeing a surge of interest. Cyber-Seniors, which pairs older adults with high school or college students who serve as technology mentors, has trained more than 10,000 seniors since April 2020 — three times the average of the past several years. (Services are free and grants and partnerships with government agencies and nonprofit organizations supply funding, as is true for several of the organizations discussed here.)

Older adults using digital devices for the first time can call 1-844-217-3057 and be coached over the phone until they’re comfortable pursuing online training. “A lot of organizations are giving out tablets to seniors, which is fantastic, but they don’t even know the basics, and that’s where we come in,” said Brenda Rusnak, Cyber-Seniors’ managing director. One-on-one coaching is also available.

Lyla Panichas, 78, who lives in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, got an iPad three months ago from Rhode Island’s digiAGE program — one of many local technology programs for older adults that started during the pandemic. She is getting help from the University of Rhode Island’s Cyber-Seniors program, which plans to offer digital training to 200 digiAGE participants in communities hardest hit by covid-19 by the end of this year.

“The first time my tutor called me, I mean, the kids rattle things off so fast. I said, Wait a minute. You have a little old lady here. Let me keep up with you,” Panichas said. “I couldn’t keep up and I ended up crying.”

Panichas persisted, however, and when her tutor called again the next week she began “being able to grasp things.” Now, she plays games online, streams movies and has Zoom get-togethers with her son, in Arizona, and her sister, in Virginia. “It’s kind of lifted my fears of being isolated,” she told me.

OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) is set to expand the reach of its digital literacy programs significantly after a recent affiliation with AARP. It runs a national hotline for people seeking technical support, 1-920-666-1959, and operates Senior Planet technology training centers in six cities (New York; Denver; Rockville, Maryland; Plattsburgh, New York; San Antonio, Texas; and Palo Alto, California). All in-person classes converted to digital programming once the pandemic closed down much of the country.

Germaine St. John, 86, a former mayor of Laramie, Wyoming, found an online community of seniors and made dear friends after signing up with Senior Planet Colorado during the pandemic. “I have a great support system here in Laramie, but I was very cautious about going out because I was in the over-80 group,” she told me. “I don’t know what I would have done without these activities.”

Older adults anywhere in the country can take Senior Planet virtual classes for free. (A weekly schedule is available at Through its AARP partnership, OATS is offering another set of popular classes at AARP’s Virtual Community Center. Tens of thousands of older adults now participate.

Aging Connected (, another new OATS initiative, is focusing on bringing 1 million older adults online by the end of 2022.

An immediate priority is to educate older adults about the government’s new $32 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit for low-income individuals, which was funded by a coronavirus relief package and became available last month. That short-term program provides $50 monthly discounts on high-speed internet services and a one-time discount of up to $100 for the purchase of a computer or tablet. But the benefit isn’t automatic. People must apply to get funding.

“We are calling on anybody over the age of 50 to try the internet and learn what the value can be,” said Thomas Kamber, OATS’ executive director. Nearly 22 million seniors don’t have access to high-speed internet services, largely because these services are unaffordable or unavailable, according to a January report co-sponsored by OATS and the Humana Foundation, its Aging Connected partner.

Other new ventures are also helping older adults with technology. Candoo Tech, which launched in February 2019, works with seniors directly in 32 states as well as organizations such as libraries, senior centers and retirement centers.

For various fees, Candoo Tech provides technology training by phone or virtually, as-needed support from “tech concierges,” advice about what technology to buy and help preparing devices for out-of-the-box use.

“You can give an older adult a device, access to the internet and amazing content, but if they don’t have someone showing them what to do, it’s going to sit there unused,” said Liz Hamburg, Candoo’s president and chief executive.

GetSetUp’s model relies on older adults to teach skills to their peers in small, interactive classes. It started in February 2020 with a focus on tech training, realizing that “fear of technology” was preventing older adults from exploring “a whole world of experiences online,” said Neil Dsouza, founder and chief executive.

For older adults who’ve never used digital devices, retired teachers serve as tech counselors over the phone. “Someone can call in [1-888-559-1614] and we’ll walk them through the whole process of downloading an app, usually Zoom, and taking our classes,” Dsouza said. GetSetUp is offering about 80 hours of virtual technology instruction each week.

For more information about tech training for older adults in your area, contact your local library, senior center, department on aging or Area Agency on Aging. Also, each state has a National Assistive Technology Act training center for older adults and people with disabilities. These centers let people borrow devices and offer advice about financial assistance. Some started collecting and distributing used smartphones, tablets and computers during the pandemic.

For information about a program in your area, go to

Judith Graham:

Friendly for all: Lincoln’s age-friendly committee focuses on inclusivity

By Luke EdwardsReporter

Thu., June 3, 2021

When Lincoln’s age-friendly committee formed, members were eager to make the town welcoming not just to seniors, but to people of all ages. 

After all, the group’s mission statement describes ensuring quality of life for people at all stages of life. 

But what they couldn’t have predicted was a global pandemic that would highlight some of the issues many face in maintaining that quality of life. Despite the issues brought to the fore as a result of COVID-19, not to mention the challenges in meeting and running a committee during restrictions and lockdowns, its members are thrilled with the work they’ve accomplished to date.

“We’ve been able to achieve a lot for the circumstances we are under,” said Lynn Timmers, deputy mayor and one of council’s representatives on the committee.

One of the biggest achievements — being designated age-friendly by the World Health Organization — hasn’t been finalized yet, but members are hopeful it will be in the next year. 

“Being age-friendly designated would really elevate our status as a community, that we are all inclusive,” said Timmers.

“It was a really in-depth and comprehensive application,” added Charlotte Sheridan, chair of the committee.

During her time on the committee, and especially since the onset of the pandemic, Sheridan said she’s learned just how crippling isolation can be if the community doesn’t work together.

“For me, I think it’s the isolation piece that really hit home,” she said. She has friends who essentially haven’t left their small apartments in over a year. Others had to face the isolation of living in long-term-care homes on lockdown, or who simply didn’t have means to connect with people.

“That’s an issue, and COVID just made it worse,” she said.

But the municipality and local agencies have figured out ways to help. Lori Laird, recreation co-ordinator with the town, described some of the ways they changed programming to ensure isolation was kept at a minimum. Its Seniors Centres Without Walls program, for instance, has elderly people connect regularly through phone calls.

“That’s a really simple way for seniors to connect with each other and chat without having to have that technology knowledge,” said Laird.

Town staff have also continued regular wellness checks, something that other groups like Rose Cottage Visiting Volunteers also conduct.

And for those older people who want to learn how to connect with technology, the Cyber Seniors group is able to get them set up, added Timmers.

As the pandemic hopefully recedes in the coming months, in-person programming will return. However, Laird and Timmers said there are some things they’ve learned throughout the pandemic that can be used in the future to make Lincoln more age-friendly.

Laird stresses that age-friendly doesn’t just mean senior-friendly. While June is Seniors’ Month and a lot of the town’s programming seems focused on seniors on first blush, in many ways, she said it’s all encompassing.

“If you have an accessible walkway, it’s (also) good for parents with strollers, or children in a wheelchair,” she said.

One area Laird sees as having potential is with intergenerational programming, bringing together Lincoln’s residents of all ages.

“Our seniors have so much to teach, but also have such great opportunity to learn from our young people and youth,” she said.

Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton said Seniors’ Month is a great time to “honour the ongoing contribution of older adults to our community.”

“Through initiatives such as the age-friendly advisory committee, we are prioritizing the voice of older adults and ensuring that their views, desires and needs are considered in everything we do.”

Must-see Movie: Cyber-Seniors

05/15/2014 01:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cyber-Seniors premieres in New York on May 16 and Toronto on May 30

I attended the screening of Cyber-Seniors, a heartwarming — and surprisingly funny — documentary about the extraordinary journey of a group of senior citizens as they discover the world of the Internet through the guidance of teenage mentors.

Walking into the theater at the Movies for Grownups Film Festival, I expected Cyber-Seniors to be a dry, informative info-nugget on how the Internet could enhance the lives of the older set. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Honestly, I’ve never been to a theater where the crowd was howling with this level of laughter.

Maybe because it was so unexpected (I hope I’m not spoiling the surprise here), but the interaction between the old folks and the young whippersnappers is just priceless:

After the screening, I was honored to sit down with the documentary’s producer, Brenda Rusnak, to get the inside scoop:

Go see this movie, you’ll walk out with a brightened outlook on the world and the people that populate it.

Staying connected through technology

By Pat Spadafora

Fri., April 30, 2021

I remember when my mother, who lived in Ottawa, used to call me on Sunday evenings after 7 p.m. when telephone rates were lower. We rarely connected outside of those highly anticipated Sunday catch-up conversations. In today’s world, catching up with others is more likely to involve a cellphone, tablet or computer and to take place at any time of the day. That is, more likely for some of us.

Innovations in technology are far-reaching. They include communication platforms like Zoom, FaceTime and Skype, virtual and augmented reality, wearables such as fitness and health trackers, telemedicine, robotics, phone applications for detecting falls, 3D printing and game technology. Technology enables connections between family and friends and can support lifelong learning. It can be a portal to enriching and new experiences originating from anywhere in the world. It can also exclude those without or, with limited, access to technology.

COVID-19 has impacted the ways in which we communicate and stay connected with one another. The pandemic has exposed and highlighted gaps in access to affordable technology, initial training and ongoing support that could increase technology adoption by older adults. For many, this lack of access has intensified the social isolation and loneliness that is disproportionately experienced by many older adults. At the same time, there is evidence that technology use has increased and served to connect older adults.

An AGE-WELL poll, conducted by Environics Research (July 2020) indicated that two-thirds (65 per cent) of Canadians 65-plus own a smartphone, compared to 58 per cent in 2019. Most of the 65-plus who own one (83 per cent) say that they use it daily. In addition, 88 per cent of Canadians 65-plus use the internet daily

Since the pandemic was declared, older Canadians have increased their use of video calls to communicate with their friends and family. Approximately one quarter (23 per cent) use video calling on their smartphones which is twice as many as in 2019. Six in 10 report that this increase is a result of the pandemic.

There has also been an increase in older adults participating in phone and online activities that have enabled them to still feel connected to others. Seniors’ Centres Without Walls is a telephone-based program that has grown tremendously in use by older adults in Ontario during the pandemic and is available in Hamilton. In addition, a growing number of older adults have joined virtual programs offered by Seniors’ Active Living Centres (SALCs) across Ontario.

During the first two weeks of virtual recreation programs offered by the City of Hamilton for older adults, over 300 participants reserved spots. Participation was higher when friends or a spouse/partner participated from the same household. Programs offered (subject to change) include Introduction to Fitness, Chair Fit, Stability, Strength and Tone, Restorative Yoga, Painting, tai chi Fundamentals, Line Dancing (Traditional), Cardio Dance, Drawing and Mind Busters.

Older adult participants in these virtual programs shared comments such as:

“I feel like I can be socially involved again without leaving my home during this time of uncertainty”

“My doctor/ nurse practitioner suggested I try virtual video programing, so glad I did.”

The Hamilton YWCA and the Hamilton Public Library are two additional examples of Hamilton organizations that offer virtual programs and that have worked hard to transition to increased online options. There are many other online options offered by organization in Hamilton.

For those seeking technology support, Cyber Seniors connects older adults with one-on-one telephone support. They can assist with computer and online use for up to 45 minutes at a time. Cyber Seniors can be reached by phone at 1-844-217-3057.

Even as face-to-face programs gradually open up, I expect that virtual programs will continue to play a vital role for the foreseeable future. We must do what we can to include older adults who have been disadvantaged during the pandemic.

Let us also dispel a prevailing myth that older adults are too old to learn technology. That is simply not true. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, many older adults have shown themselves to be resilient and open to new learning. One colleague recently shared a story about a woman in her 80s, with limited technology experience, who asked for assistance to learn Zoom and is now teaching piano lessons on the Zoom platform.

I believe in the value of face-to-face connections. However, technology has provided a lifeline for many during the pandemic and there is every reason to believe that the pervasiveness of technology in our society will persist. We must do what we can to ensure more equitable access.

Two of the recommendations in Hamilton’s Plan for an Age-Friendly Community are: (1) Provide affordable access to technology, initial training and ongoing support, as well as access to the internet and; (2) Provide reliable and consistent internet service to everyone living within Hamilton’s geographic boundaries.

Let’s work together to make that happen.

Pat Spadafora is president of Kaleidoscope Consulting and a member of the Hamilton Council on Aging. For more information about the Hamilton Council on Aging or to make a donation please visit

The Internet Isn’t Just for the Young</a>

By Neil Genzlinger

  • May 15, 2014

Early in the documentary “Cyber-Seniors,” you might find yourself saying, “Ugh, are they really going to make me watch octogenarians poke fruitlessly at laptops for 75 minutes?” But the film soon stops that torture and becomes a likable intergenerational tale with a bit of unexpected pathos.

It chronicles a program begun in Toronto by two high school sisters, Macaulee and Kascha Cassaday, in which students tried to help residents of a retirement community become more computer-literate. At first the film sounds like an advertisement for Facebook, with the teenagers introducing their gray-headed charges to it, generally at too fast a pace for an aging newcomer to absorb.

But eventually one instructor decides to make a YouTube video with his instructee, and soon there’s a contest to see which pair can come up with the best video. Some of the results are funny — here you’ll learn that an iron is actually a cooking tool — while some are bittersweet. And as this is going on, a distressing side story involving Macaulee develops. The film’s director, Saffron Cassaday, is her older sister, and she does a commendable job of melding Macaulee’s personal setback with the film’s overall theme.

It would be nice to hear more from the young mentors about what they learned, and more from the cyberseniors about how computer use might be made more elder-friendly. But in general, this is a sweet tale that will resonate with anyone who has tried to make a Skype call to a grandparent.