Seniors Enter the Digital Age

This article goes into the lives of several seniors citizens to explain how and why they decided to go digital — and are loving it! One woman, Judy Bennett, chose to conquer her fear of computers and take classes at a local senior center in order to feel more connected with her young grandchildren. She signed up on Facebook and now feels much closer with her grandchildren, whom she can view pictures of and send messages to with a few simple clicks.

Bennett is definitely not alone, according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey that reported a 26 percent increase in the amount of 70-75 year-olds using the Internet from 2005 to 2008. Jerry Schulz, who teaches the senior center computer classes that Bennett utilized, says that most people take these classes to connect with their grandchildren, or reconnect with old friends and classmates. She also says that it helps seniors feel connected to the world, and can eliminate some feelings of isolation.
According to Schultz, "most [seniors] have computers; they're just not using them". Many seniors come into his classes wanting to know how to upload and manage their old photographs on their computers and to learn about geneology and family history. A popular application is Skype, which allows seniors to have video and text chats with friends and family. It is important to focus on one area of interest for the senior rather than trying to showcase everything that the Internet has to offer at once. “To get interested in a computer, a person only needs one thing,” Just do one thing and then let it digest.

Schulz says many of his students don't give themselves any credit. “They all think they're dumb,” said Schulz. Often, he hears a family member has already tried to show them how to use the computer and it didn't go well. “They usually don't have the patience to deal with a 70-year-old mind.” Family members may see something as easy or intuitive but that isn't the case for older individuals.

Schultz believes that seniors benefit from the brain activity required to use a computer. “The benefits are just enormous,” said Marion Somers, a geriatric care manager in Los Angeles, “It brings them back to a time when they were younger, more vital.” For some people, their sense of purpose in life can increase.

Somers emphasizes the importance of the proper setting. Older individuals will need a lot of natural and ambient light. Relatives may want to increase the brightness of the screen and also increase the font size to make it easier to read. Some seniors who use bifocals may prefer to get a separate pair of glasses to make reading the computer screen easier. Somers also thinks people should invest in a decent chair, preferably one with arms to make it easier to get out of. She also thinks it is important to tell seniors that computers are not that fragile and they shouldn't worry so much about breaking them.

Schulz starts his classes by going over basic keyboard skills. There are numerous keys on a keyboard that don't appear on a typewriter: Backspace, Delete, Enter, Ctrl, Alt, and on and on. Another basic skill Schulz teaches is how the windows on the computer work, including how to move and re-size them. Security, viruses and spam are also important lessons. Schulz talks about how to recognize a valid link online, versus a risky link.

Many seniors just beginning to learn about computers will not know the proper terminology and may make up their own names for different things. Somers suggests the teacher embrace this terminology and then write it down so, over time, the senior may learn the proper name (for instance, one person called the keyboard the “alphabet block”). Right clicking the mouse is another important tool to learn. Schulz says about 80 percent of class attendees don't know this idea before coming to class. But often it's a very useful tool because some seniors struggle with double clicking. They either pause too long between clicks or move the mouse slightly between clicks. Learning to right click can eliminate the need to double click in many instances.

After their classes many seniors take pride in the knowledge they have acquired. For many, computer literacy feels like a revolution in the way of life.

"I was actually afraid of my computer. It indimidates us," said 70 year-old Mary Pitt before her computer class. However, once she completed the course and gained a greater familiarity with the intimidating machine, her view has completely changed, "I'm sold on computers".

Source: The Bend Bulletin

Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon) and Hamilton.

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