Twenty years ago the telephone's melodic ring signaled contact from the outside world, a comfort to older Americans living in retirement communities.
Nowadays, a phone remains vital for communication, but it's no longer the technological tool of choice - the computer is.
"When new people came in, the important service to have was the telephone," said
Fifty-six percent of Americans age 65 and older use the Internet, according to a
While digital accessibility is not a primary consideration for older Americans choosing a retirement community, it's outpacing television as an expected service, Landis said.
"I wanted to learn it and I'm just inquisitive enough to get on to it," Hilsher said of the computer.
While she embraces technology, however, others find it difficult.
"Older people think of communication as a verbal thing," said
With help from volunteers like Buch and information technology staff like Landis, residents work their way through Internet programs they find necessary. They tackle social networking when they realize their loved ones use it.
"Seniors are reluctantly getting more and more involved in social media almost solely to keep in touch with kids and grandkids," said
Email is how most seniors communicate on the Internet. Outside of that, their online time matches their individual tastes.
Hilsher can visit her daughter's business Facebook page, but she doesn't have her own Facebook account. Buch has helped many residents establish
Most campuses have computers available for use by those who don't own their own. If they own one, residents can subscribe to the retirement community's Internet service or get it from a local company.
In addition, most retirement communities are wireless enabled, not so much for residents, but for occasional guests. With wireless, family members and rehabilitation residents can remain connected to their homes and businesses while visiting.
Management reaches out to residents through its websites. If they haven't already, many retirement homes plan to implement Intranet communities, password-protected sites typically entered through a portal on the organization's website. There, residents might find menus, calendars, directories, meeting minutes or forms.
However, communication with residents is still mainly accomplished face-to-face or by phone.
"Because of the close-knit community we have here, communication is easiest that way," said
Retirement homes, as competitive businesses, rely on the Internet to reach prospective residents whose first look at a community often comes from a search.
"Somebody who lives out of state who wants to move to
Visiting the different retirement home websites helped them make a decision because it provided background information such as size, location, mission, amenities and levels of care.
The couple then traveled to
"You're not going to get a true picture until you walk the walk,"
"You're not going to get a feel for the characteristics of the management team, the workers, the feel of the campus on the Internet that you do when you're meeting one-on-one with people," she said. "You walk through health care and get a feel for how the people are cared for, and you walk through the dining hall and see the smiling faces."