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THE SENIOR CLASS MORE ADULTS 65 AND OVER ARE GETTING COMPUTER-SAVVY AND USING THE INTERNET FOR SUCH THINGS AS E-MAILED, PHOTOS AND HEALTH RECORDS.

Byline: KELLY PUENTE

Staff WRITER

Betty Hutchens' battle with the mouse began at age 73.

Following a doctor's advice, Hutchens purchased her first computer after her husband died in late 2000.

"He knew the transition would be hard for me and thought a computer might help," she said.

But once she got the computer to her home in Seal Beach, Hutchens realized that getting it out of the box would be the first of many intimidating tasks. A neighbor had to help her set up the computer, along with an e-mail account.

"I looked at that machine and I didn't know what to think," she said. "I'd never even touched a mouse before."

Fast forward seven years and you'll find Hutchens teaching Photoshop classes to seniors at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Cal State Long Beach.

"It's just given me a whole new stage in life," said Hutchens, who turns 80 in March. "It's a total new me."

Hutchens is an example of many computer-savvy seniors who are using the Internet for e-mail, photos, banking, health records, stock trading and more.

According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C., 32 percent of adults ages 65 and older use the Internet, up from 26 percent in 2005 and 18 percent in 2003.

Experts say that number will continue to grow as Internet-savvy baby boomers age.

"So many of the youngest baby boomers grew up

using computer games and other technology," said Mary Furlong, author of the book "Computers for Kids Over 60." "We're going to see the number of seniors online grow in the next 10 years."

In 1986, Furlong founded SeniorNet, which provides computer and Internet education for older adults. The nonprofit organization now has more than 200 centers nationwide that offer courses ranging from Very First Computer Class and Microsoft Powerpoint to Converting Your Movies to DVD and Buy and Sell on eBay.

Con Rader, who chairs the computer lab at the Osher Institute where SeniorNet classes are held, said 1,018 seniors enrolled in the fall semester.

"There's definitely a need and we're filling it," Rader said.

Frederick Johnson said the Ahmanson Senior Center in downtown Los Angeles had to add computer classes this year to accommodate the flow of eager students.

"I think most seniors are beginning to see how convenient a computer can be to make doctor's appointments and have prescriptions filled," he said. "A computer makes it so convenient for those who don't drive."

Hutchens, who now coaches other seniors in the computer lab at Osher, started with beginning classes and worked her way up.

"I took one class every quarter and even repeated some classes," she said. "After awhile, you start to notice you have abilities."

Hutchens' favorite activity involves creating elaborate online albums using photos from her annual vacation with her sister.

"My sister tells me where we're going and I tell her where we've been," she said.

Furlong said online photo sharing is a popular trend.

"We're even seeing more seniors with iPhones so they can share pictures of their travels, pets or grandkids," she said.

Bob Nelson, an 81-year-old line-dancing teacher from Compton, loves to post photos of his students. And he says that a computer connection is vital these days, regardless of your age.

"It's the same as not being able to read or write," he said. "If you don't have a computer nowadays, it's like being illiterate."

Many seniors venturing into the digital age are getting a little help from their kids.

A study by AARP found that more than 70 percent of adults ages 25 to 44 who have an older parent with a computer have been contacted for help. Nearly half of the respondents said they're asked for assistance at least twice a month.

Federico Abeyta, an employee at a BestBuy in Long Beach, definitely noticed the trend this holiday season.

"We saw a lot of adults coming in with their older parents," he said. "They don't know what type of computer to get so their kids point them in the right direction."

From gardening tips to online grief support groups, being connected can greatly improve an elderly person's quality of life, said Richard Adler, a former staff member at SeniorNet who now specializes in aging and technology.

"We're finding that seniors are an extremely creative and active group of users," he said. "They're bringing their wisdom to the information age."

At the same time, seniors can be more vulnerable to computer viruses and online identity theft, he said. To help, SeniorNet is developing an identity theft awareness class.

But for many elderly people, the benefits of being connected far outweigh the dangers.

"It's so much fun to play again and discover and learn," Furlong said. "It's like the fountain of youth for older adults."

kelly.puente@presstelegram.com

562-499-1305

GET CONNECTED

It's easy to become computer literate with classes in the basics and beyond. Check your local library or senior center to find out what's available. Here's a sampling of the offerings.

Joslyn Adult Center, 1301 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, offers free one-on-one classes on Thursdays. For an appointment, call 818-238-5353.

ONEgeneration Senior Enrichment Center, 18255 Victory Blvd., Reseda, offers hourlong weekly classes in basic Internet and computer skills. The cost is $20 for a four-week session. Call 818-705-2345

Encino-Tarzana Branch Library, 18231 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, offers free computer classes on Monday nights. Call 818-343-1983.

Ahmanson Senior Center, 3990 S. Menlo Ave., Los Angeles, offers beginning computer, Monday-Thursday. Cost is $80 for a four-week session. Call 213-763-0118.

Torrance Adult School Griffith Center, 2291 Washington Ave., offers computer basics. Cost is $44 per quarter. Call 310-533-4454.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, offers classes through SeniorNet. The cost is $45 for an eight-week session, plus $40 annual membership fee. Call 562-985-8237.

La Mirada Activity Center, 13710 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, offers classes through SeniorNet. The cost is $5 per six-week session, plus $40 annual membership fee. Call 562-902-3160

Cerritos Senior Center, 12340 South St., Cerritos, offers free classes on Mondays and Thursdays. Call 562-916-8850.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Computer instructor Barbara Graham, left, works with student Arlene Wolf of Encino at ONEgeneration's Senior Enrichment Center in Reseda.

David Crane/Staff Photographer

(2 -- color) no caption (mouse)

Box:

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 10, 2008
Words:1062
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