Story by Larry Altman
Nancy Spear said she’s known for years that her tech service helps some seniors get through the day.
Now, with the pandemic forcing everyone to stay home, some of her clients are relying on her.
“For example, walking them through how to order their dinner with DoorDash or getting them on Zoom to see their grandkids,” Spear said. “I wish we weren’t in this situation but since we are, I’m glad I’m able to help them with their tech issues so they can stay connected to the outside world.”
Two weeks into California’s stay-at-home order, Spear’s unique business, Nancy’s Tech Help for Older Adults, is proving itself to be invaluable for elderly Westside residents now finding themselves isolated from friends and family, the local senior center, book clubs, card games, classes and shopping trips.
With Spear’s help, however, they’ve already learned many of the basics for using the Internet, smartphones and tablets: Sending emails, attaching photographs, texting, using Facebook, finding websites and watching videos on YouTube. Some have dabbled in Zoom, a meeting site that allows several people to communicate at once.
“What concerns me about my clients is most of them live alone,” Spear said. “They may not have family in the area they are isolated. Isolation can lead to depression and depression can lead to heart disease or obesity or other health issues.”
Spear, 54, was managing the office for a computer software company about six years ago when she got the idea. Her father was in his late 70s, just bought his first iPhone, and told her he had spent more than an hour on the helpline trying to get a password.
“I knew there was a market to help older people,” Spear said. “I started with my parents and they referred me to their friends and little by little…It was a lot of word of mouth. I put a couple fliers up in the neighborhood coffee shop and the phone just started ringing.”
Spear, who is based in Culver City, developed a client list of 15 to 20 people living mostly on the Westside: West Los Angeles, Venice, Santa Monica, Palisades. They range in age from about 75 to 91.
“I’ve learned a lot and I can’t put any price on what I’ve learned,” said Hilda, an 82-year-old Culver City wife, mother and grandmother who does her banking online. With Spear’s help, Hilda has live-streamed church services and yoga classes online since the stay-at-home order began.
Spear, she said, helped her walk through each website.
“I’ve learned some and I’m still wanting to learn more,” Hilda said. “She is very patient.”
Until the pandemic struck, Spear visited about four or five clients in their homes each day.
“The first time, they almost feel like they are hosting me,” Spear said. “Most of them are widows. They like to have a visitor. They ask me about myself. They we get to work.”
Spear teaches more than just texting and emailing. She shows seniors how to medical test results online and how to contact their doctors.
“I want to teach them how to do it themselves,” Spear said. “Any way I can help them connect to their families.”
Spear stopped meeting with clients about three weeks ago when it became apparent that age posed a higher risk for susceptibility to the virus. Since then, she is doing her best to help them over the phone.
“If there is somebody who I have seen often, I don’t have to see their screen,” she said. “I can say, ‘Click on Chrome,’ and in my mind’s eye, I can say, ‘It’s the third from the left on the bottom of the screen. It’s a red and blue, yellow beach ball.'”
She’s also a friend. When she calls these days, she isn’t necessarily calling about tech issues.
“I’m not the ‘Best Buy’ guy,” Spear said. “There’s a connection. I know that I am helping them. I get calls from their son-in-law or their daughter, ‘Thank you so much.'”
She also supplies her clients with links to sites that help with aging, including YouTube videos with lyrics that allow them to sing along to Frank Sinatra and games that help memory. Spear sends out links for virtual museum tours and the instructions on how to use them.
“I try to give them activities,” she said.
Because they are cooped up at home, Spear has suggested her clients use a library app called “Libby” that allows them to check out books from the Los Angeles Public Library and read on their tablets. She encourages her seniors to use games like “Brain Yoga” to keep thinking.
Spear also urges friends and family to keep in close touch with the older adults in their life as the pandemic continues. Besides chatting and offering to buy groceries, there’s time now to learn from them on the phone and Internet.
“Ask them questions about their childhood,” she said. “Who was your favorite teacher and why? Who was your first girlfriend? Hear their stories.”
Adult children, she said, should go on YouTube to find videos that might interest their parents. Children should send the link and email it so that the parent can easily click on it.
“I’ve sent my mother the links to Herb Alpert, Mel Brooks, and Six Jewish Girls in Boyle Heights – she loved them,” Spear said.
Spear also made these suggestions:
- Virtual Museums
- Megilla.com – the site allows users to video themselves tell a story with a webcam and email a story directly to their grandchildren. Launching on April 7 and free until June 1 for seniors isolated by the coronavirus pandemic, the site allows users to answer 750 questions from “how I met my wife” to “what life lessons have you learned from your work.”
Although Spear’s senior clients are able to utilize the Internet, some families throughout Southern California are coping with Alzheimer’s disease during the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Alzheimer’s Los Angeles, isolation with a person who is cognitively impaired can lead to emotional stress for the caregiver and patient. Help is available at 844.HELP.ALZ or www.alzheimersLA.org.
Alzheimer’s LA has social workers available to provide support, financial assistance and connections to support groups and counseling.
To view Spear’s site and rates, go to https://www.nancys-tech-help.com/