Five Questions With: Liz Hamburg

Brown University alumna Liz Hamburg, CEO and president of Candoo Tech, founded the company to help seniors learn technology and appreciate how it could help with everyday tasks.

The company’s services have become even more important since the novel coronavirus hit in mid-March, as the resulting quarantine, lockdown and stay-at-home orders have brought the importance of technology to light for many seniors, especially those who live alone or who don’t drive.

While operating remotely, Hamburg and her team have been working hard to help keep clients safe, connected and entertained throughout the pandemic in the 12 states the company serves.


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PBN: For seniors unfamiliar with technology, is there additional hesitation in exploring tech due to the threat of cybercrime and cyberscams that are out there?

HAMBURG: In general, we often see that older adults are nervous about using technology. Sometimes because they are afraid they will look “stupid,” and sometimes because they are worried about security. We have seen this the most around people nervous about Alexa listening in and, more recently, with some of the early warnings about Zoom and people coming into Zoom rooms uninvited, but that seems to have been resolved.

Unfortunately, we usually get calls from families after their relatives have gotten scammed. The most prevalent is when someone gets a phone call or an email from someone claiming to be Amazon, Microsoft, Norton Antivirus or some established company. They usually tell the senior that they need to have access to their computer to update something. The senior lets them in and they use remote software to get access to confidential information. We usually get the call to clean up the computer of malware and reset passwords. We tell our clients to call us if they ever have a doubt whether something is legitimate or not.

PBN: What are some simple, specific examples of ways seniors can use technology to stay safe and connected, especially if they are living alone?

HAMBURG: There are so many ways to use technology to stay safe and connected. Some ideas: apps that use smartphones or voice recognition – Alexa, Google Home – to check in on a daily basis to make sure your family member is OK; medication reminders; wall-mounted fall-detection devices, so you don’t need to remember to wear anything or recharge them; inexpensive cameras that detect motion and sound with talkback features; password managers that ensure everything is secure – a family member can have a master password just in case of emergency; access to telemedicine professionals; and the ability to order groceries and supplies.

To stay connected, there is video calling, [such as] FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp. Caribu takes video calling to the next level, as it allows for the sharing of books and drawings with others, such as grandchildren. Then, there are online card games, such as bridge and mahjong, to keep seniors engaged and entertained.

PBN: Do you find that some seniors who are unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable about using technology become more open to it once they see its potential?

HAMBURG: Yes, absolutely! We often see people who are nervous about using their technology and convinced that they can’t do it. We start off with something simple – using remote software so that we can see their screen. Once they learn something, they feel empowered. Especially now [with COVID-19], even the most resistant realize that if they want to participate in their grandchild’s graduation or birthday, or play cards with their friends, or watch a movie, they have to learn how to do it online. Very often, they get excited after realizing that they can do it!

PBN: Your website says that Candoo works to help seniors use technology to stay healthy and keep from getting bored. What are some ways technology can accomplish these goals?

HAMBURG: Now, more than ever, with so many people sheltering in place, most activities have moved online. We are helping clients with everything from getting onto their doctor’s portal; doing a virtual museum tour – one client loves “visiting” the Louvre; watching operas; and attending community classes online.

PBN: Candoo Tech has had to pivot in light of COVID-19, making your at-home concierge tech services strictly remote. What has that been like, as you are serving seniors who, in some cases, may be learning tech for the first time?

HAMBURG: We were worried that there would be a lot that we couldn’t do remotely. But we have found that we’ve been able to do a lot more than expected. We use remote software so that we can see their screen – even on a phone or tablet. And now we can also use a video feature where we can see what they see around them, so we can also help with printers, modems and other things.

We recently helped a 105-year-old man on his birthday who needed to use his iPhone to take photos and send them to his doctor. We also have been setting up tablets and phones for clients who have never used a smartphone or computer before. We set them up in advance with a very simple interface and literally paint red nail polish on the on/off switch so they see what to push. When they open the box and click on FaceTime to see their family members for the first time in months, they understand the power of technology.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.

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