ConnectedLiving: Equipping Older Adults to Be Computer Literate

Before Computers

Prior to having computers in society, some everyday tasks could be viewed as more difficult or time consuming. Without a computer or Internet connection, you would not be reading this article and the Chicago Bridge blog would not even exist. Before computers, some tasks may have taken longer to do, such as paying bills, finding directions  and/or writing papers for class or work.

The Need for Computer Access and Education

For an older adult, the burden or challenge of some of these tasks may be eliminated through use of a computer. For example, sending birthday cards to grandchildren or children may be easier through email if the older adult has arthritis or shaky hands challenging their handwriting abilities. It may also be easier to get in touch with grandchildren who are more likely to be communicating via email. At the beginning of the ConnectedLiving older adult computer classes at Rush University, we as facilitators always ask older adult students what they would like to get out of the program. In response, at least one or two students say a goal is to stay in touch with grandchildren through email and the Internet. In addition, older adults would arguably benefit from using a computer as a method of filling out the many forms they face including Medicare related forms, Circuit Breakers, Medicaid forms, etc.

What is ConnectedLiving?

ConnectedLiving is a company founded in 2007 that works to connect families and older adults through technology and the Internet. They bring Internet and computer knowledge to those who otherwise would not have such access. ConnectedLiving provides training software and curriculum. The ConnectedLiving staff train the trainers who will work with participants and also train the participants themselves. ConnectedLiving uses a special secure network consisting of email, the internet, games, music, and a calendar all in one program. They have many partnerships in senior communities including Rush University Medical Center, Brookdale Senior Living, Atlanta Housing Authority, Boston Housing Authority, District of Columbia Housing Authority, a senior apartment building in Oak Park, IL and many others.

Rush University’s ConnectedLiving Program

Rush University Medical Center offers basic classes in how to use the ConnectedLiving network which includes teaching participants how to scroll, use a mouse, turn the computer on and off, sign in and out from their account, use email, Internet, play games, find health information and much more! There are two main coordinators and several volunteers that help facilitate the class at Rush University and all of them are friendly, patient, and empowering. Rush University Medical Center received a grant as part of “Getting Illinois Low Income Seniors and People with Disabilities” online which ConnectedLiving implemented in Illinois with help from the Department of Commerce’s BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program). If a participant has perfect attendance and passes the assessment given at the end of the program, they may be eligible for a free refurbished computer provided that they purchase broadband.
If you know an older adult who would be interested in participating in ConnectedLiving, they can contact MaryLou Tomecek Baker, coordinator of the ConnectedLiving program at Rush at (312) 942-2053.

Improving Confidence

Many participants start Rush University’s ConnectedLiving program excited and a little nervous. They are sometimes afraid if the wrong button is pressed they might ruin the computer but they shortly overcome this fear. By the end of the program, participants are using the computer as if they had been using it their whole life. One participant so enjoyed the program that she went one step further and purchased a Kindle Fire so she could always be connected to technology.

Computer Literacy for Older Adults

According to a study by The Pew Charitable Trust published in The Chicago Tribune, as of 2008, only 35% of older adults 65 or better were using the Internet. This is a 5% increase from 2006. Of course this number could be much higher. Several of the participants in the Rush ConnectedLiving program reported that they, “did not want to be left behind” when it came to computers and technology. They want to be able to keep up with things that are happening in the world and the computer is one way they can do that besides using the TV or radio. Computer use may also help those who have health or physical challenges providing access to disease management programs online or connect with others online if they are lonely or isolated.

Available Programs for Older Adult Computer Instruction

Although there are some computer literacy programs available, I believe there is a large need for additional classes and instruction for older adults. There are many older adults who are willing and eager to learn and several places in Chicago and beyond that provide it. Each program is unique and it is important to find the one that works for each individual. Several participants in the Rush ConnectedLiving program have tried other programs before coming to Rush and have experienced more success with Rush’s program.

Important Resource for Older Adults

Because technology is such a large important part of society today, it is vital that there are accessible programs to teach older adults basic computer skills. ConnectedLiving is one example that helps to do this by teaching skills such as navigating the Internet, using email, playing games online, and using YouTube videos. ConnectedLiving assist older adults to become computer literate. It helps make tasks like paying bills easier and keeping in touch with grandchildren simpler as well as increases the number of older adults who are computer literate. *Thanks to RTLibrary for sharing the picture used in this post.


  • nan anderson

    Well done! Hope it gets broader distribution.

  • Sandra Crasko

    Melissa, Great article! We too work with older adults in both private, at home, one-to-one computer education as well as group classes and computer repairs. Any computer education requires patience, but our staff are especially trained for the needs of this population. The value is tremendous! For those not familiar with computers and the freedoms they provide, education on e-mail, Skype, Facebook and photo sharing connects people in ways they’d never imagine. Thanks for the work you do to help older adults with computer literacy.
    – Sandee Crasko, Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you, Nan!

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you, Mrs. Crasko! I happened to be on the CMSS website to learn more about it the other day and I saw that CMSS has a program that does repair and tutoring and one on one instruction at home and I thought that was wonderful! That makes it even easier for people to access it!
    For sure! It most definitely does! It opens up so many doors for older adults! Thank you! Thank you for the work that CMSS does as well to provide computer instruction to older adults as well!

  • Elyse Baylis

    Thank you so much for the links to local resources.

  • Leah

    Great resources! I wonder if anyone has thought to start making “aging apps” for iPhones and iPads…it’s not a bad idea at all as we make the transition.

  • Amiel Eskridge

    Awesome article Melissa! With so many seniors now learning the basics of computer use for the first time, offerings like ConnectedLiving are essential. Most computer literacy classes geared toward seniors are fairly a trial in the beginning, as many students feel a little overwhelmed. However, these feelings pass as they learn to navigate web pages and see desired outcomes after just a few hours into the class. I have personally witnessed that at Rush University’s ConnectedLiving program. The dedicated, patient and supportive tutors there promote the confidence and independence that students get as a result of being empowered by technology. You and your team (which I’m extremely proud to be part of) are on a path to rid older adults of any sense of inadequacy or isolation as you open them up to new interests and connections, with not just family & friends, but people from all over the world.

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    You are welcome, Elyse! I am glad they were helpful!

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you, Leah! I am glad that they were helpful! I think there are a few aging apps out there for aging professionals, but I am not sure if there are any for older adults, I bet there may be!

  • Susie

    Awesome article Melissa! Great way to shed some light and the importance of keeping our seniors in touch with society!!!

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you, Amiel! I completely agree! You could not have said it better!!! 🙂

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you, Susan!!! Most definitely!

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