Virginia Croce, 87, plays a Nintendo Wii bowling game last week at Balfour Retirement Community in Louisville. Balfour keeps its residents up to speed on modern technologies, offering computer classes on social networking. ( SAM HALL )
Sam Sirkin's grandson has been nudging him to set up a Facebook profile.
On Facebook, his 15-year-old grandson from New Jersey could share photos and videos from his swim meets, perhaps. He could chat online with his grandpa in Boulder. And, the two could keep each other updated on their "statuses."
Sirkin, a 74-year-old retired real estate broker, will soon make his grand, grandfatherly entrance into the social-networking world. But he needs some tutoring first, and will take a class next month through Boulder's senior center.
"I'm a senior who keeps getting left in the dust with Twitter and Facebook," he said. "I don't have a clue what Twitter is about."
Senior centers and retirement homes are increasingly offering tutoring and training sessions for those who come from the era of telegraphs and handwritten letters — not newfangled tweets and online friend requests.
"I'm going to take a class and see what's going on," Sirkin said. "I try to do as much stuff as I can on the computer."
Senior citizens are flocking to Facebook, according to findings from the marketing firm iStrategyLabs.
Between January and July of 2009, there was a 513 percent growth in Facebook profiles from those in the age category of 55 and up — which makes them the fastest growing group of users, according to the company's research. Seniors now make up about 8 percent of total Facebook users, the research shows.
This fall, Boulder's Senior Services is offering courses on e-mailing, blogging, Twitter and social networking, plus it's rolling out a new class on Skype, said manager Sandy Hollingsworth.
"Many want to be up on technology, and most want to better communicate with their families," she said. "Some are finding it to be a great avenue for communication. But not all of them. Some people are still nervous about learning the new technologies."
At the Balfour Retirement Community in Louisville, computers in common areas come equipped with Web cams and computer courses, and social networking help is available.
"We have residents who use Skype and belong to Facebook," said Sandy Christensen, executive director of the Balfour Retirement Community. "It's a way to stay connected to their grandchildren."
Jennifer Cohen, a graduate student at the University of Colorado, teaches some of the social media classes to seniors through Boulder's Senior Services.
"Everybody has a different reason for showing up," she said. "I think there are some common themes of, 'I feel like I'm being left behind,' or 'my family thinks I should do this.' But there is a large percentage of seniors who are just interested in learning something new."
Ann Murtha, of Boulder, plans to better her computer skills through a class at the senior center, but she's not interested in signing up for Facebook or Twitter.
"I'm 71. I have no interest in spending more time in front of the computer," she said. "I can be in touch with e-mail and cell phones, and it works just fine for me."