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Seniors can learn a new trick -- social networking

Social networks can attract older users and help keep them connected

October 16, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - An 89-year-old woman used to find computers intimidating. Today, she's not only using a computer, she's on a social network, emailing with her family and getting pictures from her grandson in Australia.

Mary McNamara
Mary McNamara, 89, of Des Plains, Ill., uses a social network to connect with her eight children, 16 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

When people talk about social networking being for young people, they haven't met Mary McNamara.

McNamara lives in a community for senior citizens in Des Plains, Ill. On any given day, you might find her emailing with her children and grandchildren. You might even find her going through the pictures that her grandson, a professional football player in Australia, posts for her to see.

This woman, who is nearly 90, may not be just out of college, but she is a social networker.

"In my first experience with it, I was afraid I was going to do something wrong and break it," McNamara told Computerworld. "I have children all over the United States and it's really helpful to get in touch with them quickly. At first my family was very, very surprised. They were thrilled to death that I started getting more up-to-date in my life."

McNamara is one of the senior citizens using Connected Living, a social network set up for the residents of more than 200 senior communities in 19 states. By the beginning of 2013, Connected Living is expected to be available to people in 300 facilities in 24 states.

Sarah Hoit, CEO and co-founder of Connected Living, said the company is focused on people in senior communities because they are separated from their families and often feel disconnected.

"I think a lot of people had written off an elder population really connecting," said Hoit. "What we have proven is that not only will the seniors connect, it profoundly changes their lives and their voice and happiness... The initial premise is to connect an entire generation of seniors who were left out of the digital divide."

Connected Living, a cloud-based service, is only for people living in those residential communities, but Hoit said they're hoping to eventually expand to all senior citizens.

So far, Connected Living has seen a strong adoption rate. It is a Web-based social platform and can be used from a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. It has touch capability for smartphone and tablet users.

The site first launched in a senior center in Quincy, Mass., and within three months had 50% of the population connected.

So what is Connected Living doing that's getting senior citizens not just online but on a social network?

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