Category Archives: Aging

Grandma Robot Works for Me

Alert:  Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, 2013. 

Alert:  Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, 2013

.Alert:  Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, 2013.

Pardon the repetition.  I am a Robot stuck on message

In fact, I am Grandma Robot, a title and role known to few.  I have been officially known as  “Grandma Robot” for a few years now, ever since my four-year-old grandson Will determined that unique title when he was not yet two years old.  It stuck.

Why the unique title I cannot say.  I have come to appreciate the distinct – if not distinguished – title.  How many Grandma Robots do you know?

I proudly fantasize that Will simply has a precocious perception of his robotic future.   Research shows that humans evidence a strong preference for robots that wear a friendly smile.  If we expect robots to provide compassionate health care or otherwise interact effectively with humans, people need to feel comfortable.  And still the regular run of the mill robot of today is cold, dispassionate, mechanistic.

We need robots that show they care.  Humans have to be comfortable hanging out with robots.  The challenge to researchers is formidable and the costs staggering. 

 Still, humans must embrace a vision before we start engineering.  What could be more genuinely comfortable than a Robot with the looks and demeanor of a grandma?   Are we planning to build a domestic robot that can help a kid bake ginger cookies?   Is anyone working on a robot that will operate an in-house bookmobile or read a half dozen bedtime stories in a soothing voice?

We’re not there yet.  For now I’m a proud Grandma Robot happy to celebrate Grandparents’ Day with my real live grandson who has better things to do than explain how he happened upon the Grandma Robot appellation.


Invisible or Invincible: A choice for seniors and for society

African American writer and thinker Ralph Ellison was describing his race-based invisibility. Those who are themselves invisible recognize the truth and relevance of Ellison’s words.   “I am an invisible man.  I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Bella Pollen, writing in Midnight Cactus, takes a different tack on the concept of invisibility, observing that “if America is the land of opportunity a country where perseverance and hard work is rewarded by recognition, then an illegal harbors the opposite ambitions. His great reward is anonymity, invisibility.  Aided and abetted by market forces and the laws of supply and demand, he hones the skill to stand up but make sure he’s never counted.”

Contrasting, but compatible observations that give pause.  Though Ellison and Pollen reflect on the invisibility of people of color and immigrants, those affected by the invisibility brought on by age can learn.  My instinct as a short and congenitally unprepossessing person is to weigh the safety in anonymity against the inherent challenge of invisibility.  I would simply add to the mix the parallel pros and cons of inaudibility.  As I daily confront the challenge of acute invisibility brought on by the passage of time on earth I am determined to focus on the advantages and find humor in the insults.

Nancy Perry Graham, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine, laments that “older people are invisible in society after a certain point…. It’s one of the last remaining acceptable prejudices.”   Obviously, I abhor the pain that this socially acceptable prejudice inflicts on elderly people.  Still, I believe the greater loss lies in the fact that mainstream society starves itself of the time, wisdom and experience of the elderly.

So it is with concern for wisdom lost, wry pleasure and an incurable stubborn streak that I don the cloak of invisibility

Most times I laugh inwardly and wonder within my invisible self just when it was that my own metamorphosis into invisibility transpired.  As a vertically challenged woman, I eased into the final phase.  The total transformation may have come with retirement.   Retirement means instant non-personhood, loss of professional credentials and skills and the invalidation of real world wisdom.  Though volunteers do get self-satisfaction our impact lacks legitimacy.

Then there is the Digital Divide.  Admittedly, I am a lurker.  Though I have legit access to the basic tools, I have neither the time nor the interest in the latest tweet from someone dashing off to the spa or stuck in traffic.   I spend countless hours doing research online, but choose to remain invisible and uninterrupted by yet another beep.   I actually think of meal time as a chance to dine (using my hands) and to chat with fascinating friends who are replete with ideas and stories.  Staring at and thumbing an inanimate device seems far less intellectually stimulating.

Invisibility is a daily fact in the world of commerce, of course.  I don’t shop much, but when I do I am amused by the inevitable intergenerational encounter.  The cheerleader clerk invariably looks furtively around the dressing room to see who is going to signal learn what this old lady thinks of the  garment draped on her invisible frame.  The plus side of shopping is the disinclination to buy, buoyed by the dismissive attitude of the salesperson.

There are trendy magazines with massive advertising campaigns devoted to visible people; serious publishers must assume invisibles are illiterate, irrelevant and/or just not active players in the economy.  The scourge of digital marketing is universally fixated on young consumers.  If virtual marketers don’t want to pitch to invisibles, we should be able to block those fatuous streams of commercialism; we could use the time we have left to learn something meaningful.

For invisibles television is a major source of offense/humor.   As portrayed on TV programs and/or commercials seniors are sadly visible – as frail and bumbling incompetents. (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” comes to mind.)  Sad to say, the “news” media are worse, consistently referring to the elderly in the third person and the mainstream as “we” (as in “we” the sandwich generation will some day have to bear the burden of “them,” our parents.}

The only industry that unabashedly caters to the invisible elderly is the prescription/OTC drug cabal that assumes we are insomniacs who are simply unaware that modern medicine has identified new maladies for which they alone have a pricey panacea.  Their preference for nocturnal commercials rests in part on the fact that advertising rates are cheaper than prime time;  further, should we invisible old folks happen to wake in the night, we are vulnerable to the pitch.

The medical profession as a whole is tangentially aware of our presence – could it be the Medicare payments?   Though they poke and probe the physical form, their interest ends there.  The assumption, one must conclude, is that corporal irregularities are generally linked to age and that invisible oldsters are incapable of accepting the cause or the cure.

Of course invisible elderly usually just suck it up.  Professionals who study such matters attribute this to upbringing – we’re too polite to Question Authority.  I disagree.  For me, it’s not worth the time or the energy to intervene – especially since the service provider, regardless of role, can neither hear nor see the complainant.  Consider the source, and savor yet another inappropriate encounter.

Back in the day, folks didn’t live to the age of invisibility.  They left their accumulated wealth to feed their progeny and the economy.  Those who lasted earned kudos for their wisdom and longevity.  Ancients were actually seen and heard, even honored.   One challenge today is to reposition the elderly as vital human beings who could be a resource with a contribution to make in a world that hungers for wisdom.  Still, we must first be visible.

Victor Hugo wrote: “A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought.  There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”  Truth to tell, though invisible in the labor force, the media and the economy, many invisible seniors are hard at work thinking.






Champions for Intellectual Access Through Technology Meet in the TC’s

Though I have always resisted the clarion call of the “Minnesota First in the Nation” chauvinists, I have long been inordinately proud of fact that the North Star State was, in truth, the home of the original Radio Talking Books program.  This powerful force for inclusion and access is renowned for having brought  information and ideas to visually and physically challenged Minnesotans for forty-one years!   If you haven’t checked the robust programming of RTB of late, take a minute, then tell a friend.   Users need a password to listen to the programs but you can get a good idea of the possibilities, including an ever-growing list of newspapers, on the website at

For the latest, greatest, you’ll also want to check the annual conference of the International Association of Audio Information Services ( which is meeting in the Twin Cities June 6-8, 2013.  Conference planners note that “this particular conference is happening in the state where radio information services began in 1969, with the Minnesota Radio Reading Service.  That set a radio signal that carried newspapers, magazines, and a few books for people with blindness and reading disabilities.  That has segued into services around the world that fit many different formats and forms of delivery, some still using the analog radio signal, but others on cable, SCA cable television, touch-tone telephone, and the internet.”

Today, programs that grew from the seed planted four decades ago cover read-aloud books, local news, PSA’s, ads, obits, events, magazines, advocacy information and more.   One essential resource on the IAAIS site is a list of Radio Reading Service websites internationally and in the U.S – there are well over fifty programs offering a wide range of services and technologies.  Not to play favorites, but to name just one, I was intrigued with the radio book group broadcast on Audio Journal, a service designed for the people of mid-Massachusetts but accessible online beyond those boundaries (   I know that every one of the state services would offer a unique and irresistible glimpse of the possibilities planners will be discussing at the conference.

The urgency of attention to intellectual access is underscored today by the rapidly growing cohort of visually impaired elderly and, equally, by the injuries suffered by returning veterans.  Today over 21.5 million adults age 18 or older are blind or vision impaired.  There are many others who have barriers to independent reading such as a stroke, spinal cord injury or other physical impairment that is not strictly visual.

Promoters of the IAAIS conference advise that these national gatherings “have a very broad scope of educational presentations, from technology and government regulations, to volunteer management and fund-raising.”  As always, the real work – and benefit – of a global conference such is this is the chance for committed people who share a mission to join forces, share ideas, interests,  energy and a sense of connectedness.

The IAAIS conference is at the Sheraton Midtown Hotel.  Lots more information, including a full events list,  on the organization’s website,  call 1-866=837-4196,  email at info@iaais.oarg or write to the association at their home base , Box 847, Lawrence, KS

Just Checking — When a PHone Call Really Matters

Will anybody call me today?

This wisp of self-doubt came from an elderly woman in response to a query about what questions she might have about life, the universe and everything.  A parish nurse who had been to visit the homebound member of her congregation shared the poignant story.  The simple question has stayed with me as I have been on t he periphery of a program called Tele-Care sponsored by Neighbors, Inc. where I have been a volunteer in recent times.

Many of us are perpetually at the ready, knowing the phone will ring any minute.  With any luck it is a friend or family member wanting to share a bit of cheer.  Or then again, it may be a salesperson, a pollster, a wrong number or, for families with teenagers….. The point in, we get lots o f calls spoken or texted on our landline, cell phone, inevitably on a Dick Tracy-style wristwatch or an implanted device.  It’s hard to hear the lonely voice of this isolated woman hoping for – and needing – a friendly phone call.

Human service providers use the term “telephone reassurance program” to categorize organizations that have structured ways to facilitate what is, in fact, a simple exchange in which a volunteer makes a scheduled call to an individual who is unable to get out of his or her home.  The caller is a phone friend, just checking to be sure the homebound person has eaten properly, taken prescribed meds on time, has enough food in the house to withstand the next blizzard, remembers to keep the doctor appointment or the visit to the hairdresser – and to spread a bit of good cheer along the way.

Of course family members, friends and neighbors make “telephone reassurance” calls all the time – it’s just that some folks, such as the woman who spoke with the parish nurse, fall through the conversation cracks.  At the same time, one source of a regular check-in, the Meals on Wheels program, has been restructured; for many, the daily drop-in by the MOW driver is yet another loss.

Spotting an opportunity, a number of corporations are promoting pricey “telephone reassurance” products and services to vulnerable adults and their concerned families.  For generous volunteers, a lonely senior or disabled person is a neighbor who needs a helping hand.  For others, that same homebound person is a source of easy income – robo-calls are cheap.

Volunteer programs such as Neighbors’ Tele-Care are no cost to the recipient for whom a daily phone call is both a day brightener and a safety net.  Generous – and chatty – volunteers enjoy t he program as much as the individuals who get the call.  Some say they appreciate the structure that a scheduled call adds to their day.  In many cases, friendships blossom and bear fruit.

Neighbors’ Tele-Care is one of countless low-cost/high impact programs hosted by nonprofits and faith communities.  It happens to be the one with which I have experience.

My thought is to share the concept, not any specific program.  Connecting a lonely person with a program such as Tele-Care would make a thoughtful holiday gift – one that truly deserves the tagline “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Neighbors’ Tele-Care program is open to all who live in the seven-county metro area.  For more information, check the Neighbors website or call Tele-Care at 651 306-1408 or

Making Something of the World – by Night and by Day


Emily Bronte reminded us that “a person who has not done one half his day’s work by ten o’clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.”  When I thought of that wise observation about 4:00 a.m. this morning I was more in a mood to ruminate than to face anything more strenuous on another hot July day.

Rumination led me to ponder one of the subtle and unsung joys of aging, the fact that, for the many older folks, liberated from the rigors of the workplace, a short night’s sleep offers a quick dip into a mental idea factory and a chance to draft a plan for what the new day promises.  For these early risers the work of the day is a challenge, better conquered by mid-morning as Bronte suggests.  Visions of projects and possibilities literally dance through their heads!”

Heraclitus got it right when he observed that “even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.”  (Fragments)   A night spent dreaming about ways to “make something of the world” leads to a morning shaped by high energy that trumps ennui any day.

Early risers of an age know that birds waking, a bit of sunshine and the sounds of a city on the move obviate the necessity of pre-dawn interruptions by a rude alarm clock or a blaring radio.   Nature itself softens the blow of another day by allowing time to review whacky dreams and get about the fun of formulating a day’s agenda that favors creative thinking and human interaction over drudgery.   More waking hours allow for a happy mix of routine and escape.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the fact that most folks cannot see short nights and long days as to luxury to be savored. Those who are in their prime have jobs with insatiable deadlines and irritating co-workers — or they face a day of search for gainful employment in a harsh economy.   Been there, done that.  It’s those decades of rise and run that make me relish the deliciousness of a soft waking from a night of respite that features the work of physical restoration and mental reflection on wyas “to make something of the world.”.

The truth is, positioning short nights and long days in a positive light is just my persistent struggle to put the best face on aging, to see the rhythm of the day as liberating.  And to get at least half of the day’s work done by ten, lest I run the risk of leaving the other half undone.

On really good mornings I start the day with a nod to Christopher Robin’s delightful puzzlement:  “Now, how to amuse them to-day?”  It sets a tone.


Seniors Quicken the Pace of “Digital Inclusion”

“We will not be silenced!” asserts my friend with clinched fist and a tone that echoes past protests familiar to many who have achieved senior citizen status.  Today she is denouncing the myth that seniors don’t – and theoretically can’t–  learn to use technology.    The pernicious myth, long debunked by reality, subtly relegates those of an age to the virtual shelf – as if they themselves were virtual.

My friend’s adamant rant continues – “We marched for peace, demanded equal pay, fought for civil and voting rights, created the tools that shaped the information age” (There’s more that’s better left unquoted here.)  ) Her vehemence recalls the immortal words of Twisted Sister, idol of a pre-digital age “We ain’t gonna take it anymore!”

Researcher Rod P. Githens of the University of Illinois Urbana introduces his study of “Older Adults and E-Learning” with two poignant caveats 1) We often attribute rigidity to age rather than personality, though Nichols (2001) points out rigidity ‘is less a factor of age than of personal history, pressure, and predisposition,” and 2) “attributing rigidity to age is just as damaging as attributing negative stereotypes to other groups.”

In the information age it’s all about statistics.  Another caveat:  Though statistics may not lie, they definitely lag.  There are numerous studies and a wide range of statistics on seniors’ use of technology.  Some samples:

  • A 2010 study by the AARP includes some basics facts, e.g.Two out of five (40%) age 50 and over consider themselves extremely (17%) or very (23%) comfortable using the Internet.
  • 37% of those surveyed use social media with Facebook being by far the most popular (23%)
  • Of the seniors who are connected 62% are connected with their children, 36% with their grandchildren, and 73% with other relatives

Aging Online,  a blog managed by Jamie Cannacher,  offers some fun stats re seniors and technology in an article irresistibly titled “Four cool boomer technology stats you don’t know.”

  • People age 55 and up pick passwords that are twice as secure as teenagers, according to research data pulled from 70 million Yahoo! Users.
  • Smartphone usage among Boomers (age 45 to 54) grew 16 percent last year – falling just behind young people (age 18-24) whose usage of smartphones grew 18 percent.
  • Social media usage by people age 65 and older grew 50 percent during the last two years, according to a report rom Experian.
  • 13 percent of people age 50 and older are Twitter users


Within the past hour I received a hot off the wireless a post from Aging Online, a quick piece with another irresistible title “Last week was big for new data on how seniors use the web.”

Briefly, Forrester Research, a privately operated research company,  just released updated statistics including these facts about the mores of seniors who are online. Though the full report is designed for Forrester clients and other paid customers, a few extrapolated stats suggest an upward trend worthy of note:

  • 91% of online seniors use email,
  • 71% go online daily
  • 59% have purchased products online in the past three months,
  • 46%  share photos by email,
  • 44% play solo games online, and
  • 24% sign up for coupons and freebies online

Though Aging Online is just one of several up-to-the-minute windows on the latest scoop on techno-savvy or digitally deprived seniors, it is a starting point to the vast possibilities.

Some thoughts on seniors and technology:

  • Americans are reaching the magic age of “senior” (however that may be defined) at a staggering rate.
  • The definition of senior all depends – It can be anything from 50+ to the age of retirement or another category that suggests “older elderly.” As always, statistical analysis varies with definition of the population surveyed.
  • A historic fact that intrigues me is that many senior retirees, e.g. military retirees, clerical workers, accountants, who have received training and used technology for decades may associate computers with workplace drudgery rather than the freedom of everyday living as a retiree.  They may leave the computer at the office because of cost, ready access or because they have had too much of a good thing.
  • Children and grandchildren are generally touted as the best tutors of older family members.  Though I have discovered no statistical confirmation, I would posit that they are not only proximate and patient, but that they are “on call” when Grandpa hits a digital roadblock.
  • Those with an interest in bridging the generation gap should check out Cyber-Seniors, producer of documentary films tell the stories of seniors and teens working in tandem.  The premise of Cyber-Seniors is this:  “A history book can only teach you so much.  Today’s kids and seniors have an opportunity to share so much more with each other by trading off history lessons for computer lessons.  The way technology is changing at a rapid pace today, with our devices becoming more intuitive and easier to use, this could be the last time we need a generation gap that’s so obvious.  We’re growing up with it and keeping pace.  Future studies about technology might not focus so much on age, but instead on access and economic status.”
  • More important, future studies about technology should focus on content, not to how to manipulate the tools but how to shape the issues, evaluate the sources, relate research to practice, make wise and informed decisions.  Access is an essential “baby step” on the long path to information literacy for all ages.

My friend is right to demand recognition of seniors’ technology acumen and receptivity to change.  She and her superannuated colleagues deftly couple decades of life experience with the need, will and tools to speak and be heard.  The rapidly expanding ranks of thoughtful people “of an age” will not – and should not – be silent in this information age.

Transit Options Free Seniors from the Angst of Gas prices, GPS technology, Driven drivers

The norm should be a graduated exiting from the licensed population

One way that today’s seniors are exercising their independence, their concern for their own and others’ safety, fiscal realities or possibly family pressure to hand over the keys,  is to embrace the car-free life.  For the car-free there are great plusses matched by some obvious negatives, most keenly experienced in the perceived limits on daily routines that ensure healthy and happy independent living.

The car-free life can put a screeching halt to daily routines.  Seniors find themselves cut off from the essentials, particularly as health care facilities, churches, and grocery stores disappear from the neighborhood.  Just as important to a rich and affirming life is the chance to participate in the fun stuff –family gatherings and grandchildren’s graduations, the coffee klatch, the golf course or the health spa, the library, the hairdresser, the ladies or boys lunch out, an OLLI class or to volunteer.

Kay Anderson, Executive Director of Northeast Senior Services, 2580 Kenzie Terrace, Minneapolis, can spot a problem – and a solution – when she sees it.  As is her way, she takes action.  In this case, the result is a comprehensive guide to the transportation options of which many seniors and their families may not be aware.  Her guide to locally accessible transit options is a prime example of a community-based response to mobility barriers that encumber,  isolate, and distress seniors in the neighborhoods served by NES.

Preparation of the guide involved making connections and phone calls, exploring and evaluating options, and carefully defining the service area of each provider.  The results are posted in the most Late Spring 2012 issue of Northeast Senior Newsletter.  Each item is well annotated with details about area service, reservations, fares, schedules and more.

Meanwhile, here are the transportation links Kay has checked out. Though services and service areas vary, the scope of the list focuses on the NE Seniors neighborhood – NE and SE Minneapolis, St Anthony Village, New Brighton, Columbia Heights as well as services that reach target populations throughout the metro area.

Kay adds some practical suggestions about funding possibilities:

  • Check your health care plan/provider about transportation options
  • Check the American Cancer Society website for a list of organizations that provide rides for cancer patients
  • Check with the county case or health care provider for benefits in Medical Assistance or Elderly Waivers for benefits that cover transportation


This excerpted outline is the tip of the iceberg.  Click, call or check with NES to see if there may be a few extra copies of the newsletter – better yet, learn about joining NES so you will have access to the wealth of information, programs and services this under-staffed community resource is providing.  (612 281 5096 or

A personal note — What the guide doesn’t address and what this seasoned bus rider would add is that public transit experience offers a unique and awesome opportunity for lifelong learning – about people (some obnoxious, most generous and gentle – all interesting), about neighborhoods you’d never veer from the highway to visit, about the fortitude that people with disabilities demonstrate en route to their jobs, schools or to the library to do some research, and about the ways in which bus drivers give public service a good name by exercising unstinting grace under pressure.