Pandemic has some Fox Valley seniors adding to their computer skills
By David Sharos, Beacon News

A few months ago, Judie Knott of Geneva didn’t have a lot of experience with online shopping for basic essentials, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that. 

Knott, along with a number of other residents living in Geneva at the GreenFields retirement community, are finding that living with point and click skills is actually kind of fun. 

“I have been ordering things from Amazon for quite a while, but before the pandemic, I never had to shop for essentials and order them online,” Knott, 76, said. “Now I go into the Walmart website and get my essentials and prescriptions online and we get a set date and time to pick them up – we’re there and back in 15 minutes, and I feel very comfortable with this method.” 

Some of the credit for teaching new skills to seniors goes to the facility’s Life Enrichment Manager Karen Tomko, who said she has also broadened the program to include weekly trivia contests that are found on a program called Caremerge that is used by residents to access local information from dining menus to weekly activities. 

“We have residents that are tech savvy, especially those that have involvement with children and grandchildren who have hooked them up with an iPad and set up email accounts and so forth,” Tomko said. “Our community is for people 62 and over, and I don’t think age is the factor in terms of what people know – it’s more about their involvement with family before and after they came here.”

Tomko said residents have Echo devices that have been used “to book bus times, check the weather, and schedule activities” but that the current pandemic has increased using the devices exponentially.

“People have really jumped on board and have been ordering things from Jewel and Walmart and asking for online pickup which many thought was really great while others have had things brought here and dropped in our vestibule,” Tomko said. 

Gerda Boone, 85, formerly of Campton Hills, said she and her husband Ed, who is 86, have learned some new things since the pandemic began. 

“We now know what streaming, Zoom and ordering groceries online are all about,” Gerda said. “Our son felt sorry for us because all we could watch was ‘dumb TV’ so he sent us a Chromecast device even though we were quite content. We had to figure out how to stream and were able to do it ourselves. We had to give the Chromecast device a title and we call it ‘Headache’ and I’m doing yoga now on Zoom.” 

“We’ve polished off about 85 movies,” Ed adds. “I think people should learn about this technology – they don’t know what they’re missing.” 

Violet Barreto, 82, and her husband Michael, 93, said they are getting more involved with their Caremerge program as well as other tasks from her playing Tomko’s trivia game to his physical exam done with a smartphone. 

“Violet doesn’t like to talk about it, but she’s very competitive,” Michael said. 

“Our phone is from the Year 1,” Violet jokes, showing off her low-tech flip phone. “We had to have a staff member help us by using hers. It’s sad for people who don’t have access to technology – it’s hard to talk with family and keep up.” 

Knott said she and her husband have also explored a new world of programs ranging from Instacart to Zoom and Teledoc as the weeks of the pandemic have passed. She regards herself as “a bit more skilled than others” and said she has helped more than one resident navigate the internet. 

“My husband wouldn’t mind my saying I have a little more of a knack for it than he does, and I have helped people get online and find things,” she said. “I keep at it and I’m persistent – if I can’t find something, I’ll get someone who can help me.” 

Jean Koops, 75, counts herself as more of a mentor than a beginner in terms of technology and says she “is really comfortable with it.”'

“I still go crazy sometimes with things like having to email all the book club members, but I do shop online at places like Walmart and I’ll probably continue to do it since I didn’t love going to the store anyway,” she said. “A couple of people have asked for help, and I’ve done things from help with a word processing program and a printer to looking up a few things.” 

Tomko estimates that at least 40% of the approximately 240 people that live at GreenFields “are savvier with technology now” than they were before the pandemic and have found those skills to be both fun and stimulating. 

“When things shut down, we lost a lot of human interaction and having our trivia game that includes showing the leader board has added entertainment and people will call each other and talk about it later,” Tomko said. “People are accessing more information.” 

Click here to read the story as it appears in Aurora Beacon News.

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