As life changes online, support the elderly

When the global pandemic hit San Antonio in March 2020, it forced us to return home and turned our daily lives upside down.

Even before COVID-19, we believed there was a heavy addiction to the virtual world and the ability to browse the internet. Then when we were forced to stay home and avoid face-to-face interactions, that addiction grew tenfold.

It wasn’t long before the media began to speculate on the negative impacts children would face from attending school online. There were indeed struggles, starting with the most basic element: having the infrastructure to access the Internet.

But it wasn’t just our children. Seniors also struggle to access the Internet and technology.

During the pandemic, we have never been so dependent on technology to meet basic needs: grocery shopping and other household items; pay bills and perform banking transactions; request services; make reservations; seek health care.

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Now everything is done online. In fact, more and more companies are cutting off access to the phone and forcing customers to communicate through online platforms.

We have been immersed in this virtual world. And it can be a dangerous place for older people who lack the familiarity and knowledge to navigate this new landscape.

Seniors lose more than $ 3 billion a year in fraudulent schemes, according to the FBI. And the web is fertile ground for fraud. Older Latinos are particularly vulnerable, according to an AARP study published in August. Among Latinos surveyed, older suburban men with college degrees and family income over $ 50,000 were the most likely to have lost money in a scam, and Latin American women over 50. years were the most likely not to know of the 17 common scams they might face.

With so much of our lives online, it is vitally important that we provide seniors with the resources they need to tackle any issues they face in the virtual world. We cannot fully recover from the pandemic until everyone in San Antonio can safely access products and services online from their homes.

AARP’s Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing seniors with free technology training to do just that. Its flagship Senior Planet program in San Antonio is working hard to make sure this happens locally through programming and outreach. The first is to ensure that government funding helps seniors and that they have equitable access to necessary resources. The latter offers online and in-person programs that help seniors learn new skills, save money, get fit and make new friends.

We also believe it is essential that the leaders of San Antonio and Bexar counties show genuine concern for their aging ridings. It begins both with ending the practice of “tampering” with the elderly and eliminating ageism in the implementation of technology. Usually, we don’t ask seniors what works for them, and then we make decisions without asking for their input. This perpetuates a vicious cycle that leaves the elderly in difficulty.

We encourage all of our elected leaders to implement standard practices of connecting with their older constituents to determine what they need from government. OATS can help inform these conversations.

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And we also encourage our leaders to fund the work that Senior Planet is doing in San Antonio to build bridges with older populations in our community. This work is essential to help ensure that older San Antonians continue to live independent and full lives in the midst of an ever-growing virtual world. Organizations focused on helping the elderly cannot do it alone, and neither can the government. But if we all work together, we can ensure that aging adults can lead productive lives and be fully immersed in the virtual world.

Activist Gloria Steinem once said: “People are now asking me if I am passing the torch. I always explain that no, I keep my torch, thank you very much. And I use it to light other people’s torches. Because the truth is, the old image of a person with a torch is part of the problem, not the solution. We each need a torch if we are to see where we are going. And together we create so much more light.

These are words we live with, and we hope you will join us in brightening up San Antonio.

Rosemary Kowalski is the founder of the RK Group. Pat Jasso is vice chairman of the board of SAWS and part-time technology trainer for Senior Planet.

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