Seniors and Caregivers Connect Online

There’s a pervasive notion out there that older people can’t, or don’t want to, use computers.  Facebook fan pages like I Hate Teaching Old People How To Use Computers, boasting over 200 members, Yahoo! chat forums, the Lifestyle section of some newspapers and guests at cocktail parties can all be counted on for stories of someone’s mother/grandfather/elderly neighbor messing up when it comes to computers and getting online.  These anecdotes spread and grow and eventually morph into a general perception that seniors and technology don’t mix.  The reality, however, isn’t so clear-cut.

Given the opportunity, seniors can and will use computer technology in much the same way their younger counterparts do.  A 2004 study, for example, found that older US Web users do product research (66%), purchase goods (47%), make travel reservations (41%), visit government Web sites (100%), look up religious and spiritual information (26%) and do online banking (20%).

What does set older and younger computer users apart, however, is their ability to get-online in the first place.  Seniors are much more likely to be grappling with vision loss, hearing loss, cognitive impairment and diminished motor skills, all of which create barriers to getting online.

Why Is It So Important That Seniors Get Online?

When Cora McCune’s husband passed away, her family became worried about her being on her own.  Phone conversations were beginning to get difficult for Cora yet her children needed an easy way to check in with her everyday.  The solution was to set Cora up with a computer and email account.

Connected individuals are healthier and happier than their non-Internet using counterparts.  The evidence is compelling.  Those who connect with family, friends and the wider community via email and the Internet are less likely to suffer from depression.  Age-related dementia can be slowed, and possibly reversed, when seniors take advantage of computer-based brain-fitness games.  Self-esteem goes up when individuals learn something new.  And some studies suggest that those who take advantage of what the Internet has to offer stay independent longer.  The list goes on and on.

Cora’s computer became her link to the outside world.  It was both a source of entertainment and communication.  When Cora wasn’t using it to play games, do puzzles or read the online version of the local paper, she was emailing her children and grandchildren.  And her grandchildren, who were more comfortable connecting online than picking up the phone, emailed back.  Cora’s computer was like a friend in her room.

Caregivers Benefit When Their Loved One Is Online

Cora’s daughter Sheila was a two-hour drive from her mom.  Being able to check in with her mom every day, even when she couldn’t physically be there, was a godsend.  Being able to videophone her mom using Skype™ technology was especially useful.  “It let me monitor the room,” says Sheila.  “I can listen in, for example, when the TV repair man visits.  And there’s something more intimate about being able to see her.  It’s one thing to talk to someone but being able to actually see how they look is even better.”

There’s also an economic benefit.  In a May 2010 study done by Volunteers of America, 48% of women surveyed say the recent economic downturn has made it harder for them to care for loved ones.   And nearly 80% of those same women believe people should receive paid leave-of-absence to care for an elderly family member.  In Canada, individuals providing four hours or more of care per week were more likely to reduce their work hours, change their work patterns or turn down a job offer or promotion. (From Balancing Career and Care.)

While email, video phone and Internet connections are no substitute for personal interaction, they can provide a cushion that allows caregivers to keep working a little longer while still caring for aging parents.

About the author: Karen Hamilton is a writer and blogger with PointerWare Innovations Ltd. PointerWare is an easy to use computer platform that helps anyone get online and stay connected with family and the wider world. Using PointerWare, anyone can send email messages to loved ones, play brain-fitness games, organize photos and see and talk to their children and grandchildren with voice and video conferencing.  For more information, visit their website at www.PointerWare.com

  • http://seniorscomputer.net/?p=555 PointerWare Article Published In Caregiver Blog

    [...] article examining Myth of the Technophobic Senior has been published on Inside Elder Care, an insightful blog that aims to make the elder care [...]

  • http://www.caring-for-aging-parents.com Kevin

    Good news… technology is important to young and old. Many of my clients (most over 75+, some in their 90s) are on the internet daily. They are corresponding via email, reading the news, videoconferencing with friends/family, traveling to places via the web as many have difficulty traveling. Just last week, an 80+ year old woman was upset that her internet was not hooked up yet (she just moved) as she likes to watch webcams of different locations she has been to. She enjoys people watching via the NY Times square webcam!

    http://www.caring-for-aging-parents.com

  • Shorowitz

    Many of us who work in the senior care arena echo the thoughts expressed by Karen Hanilton in this article. The internet provides a window to the world and stimulation for many who otherwise would be isolated.

  • Karen

    Very well said. The Internet is a window to the world. Kudos to those who work in senior care that “get” the value it offers to elders.

  • Karen

    I LOVE to hear stories like that!

  • http://eldercareabcblog.com/june-23rd-eldercareabc-blog-carnival/ June 23rd EldercareABC Blog Carnival | Elder Care ABC

    [...] Senior Using Social Media | Inside Elder Care — Inside Elder Care [...]

  • Raad Ghantous

    Excellent write up! Definitely time to shed those false assumptions and embrace the fact that Seniors are online to stay and while the might not be early adapters they get savvier as technology users steadily. After all they have spent a life time adapting to changes and resourcefully taking advantage of advancements and improvements around them.

    In fact one can argue that with more time on their hands perhaps they are more poised to adopt new developments that keep them from being shut-ins or isolated

    The aversion to technology which is usually wrongfully in my opinion blanket applied to seniors, if it exists is not only an affliction to seniors and elderly….. I have friends in their 40s and 50s that just absolutely refuse to learn the basics of Microsoft office for Pete's sake!

    Raad Ghantous

  • Karen

    I think you said it well when you spoke of “false assumptions” and “blanket applied”. It's a stereotype that's not necessarily founded on reality. It would be interesting to turn it around: we just assume that “young people” are all so good with computers but I'm pretty sure I could find some teenagers that aren't nearly as proficient as we believe them to be.

  • http://www.insideeldercare.com/aging-in-place/5-tools-and-gadgets-that-make-aging-in-place-easier/ 5 Tools and Gadgets That Make Aging in Place Easier

    [...] While it’s true that some older people aren’t able to—or don’t want to—use computers, many do. The truth is that older people, as well as their family and friends, can benefit from [...]

  • http://eldercaresingapore.org/easing-the-process-for-disabled-seniors/ Easing the Process for Disabled Seniors | Eldercare Singapore

    [...] with a walker shown above), come down the stairs at least once per day, play a game of chess (online or offline), or any of these other [...]

  • http://www.insideeldercare.com/caregiving/easing-the-process-for-disabled-seniors/ Easing the Process for Disabled Seniors

    [...] with a walker shown above), come down the stairs at least once per day, play a game of chess (online or offline), or any of these other [...]