Internet Gives Elderly Link to Life
Added: (Sun Nov 21 1999)
Pressbox (Press Release) -
By DAVID CRARY AP National Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Is the fountain of youth available at the click of a mouse?
Experts say nursing home residents, even the frail ones, take to computers quickly and can revitalize their lives through e-mail and the Internet.
"The Internet is a window to life," said David Lansdale, a geriatrics expert from Stanford University. "It's an elixir for these people."
Lansdale, who believes every nursing home should be equipped with communal e-mail and Internet access, is one of several academics raising the issue here at a weekend meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.
Lansdale said mastery of e-mail and Internet techniques can help overcome what he termed the four plagues of institutionalized elders: loneliness, boredom, helplessness and decline of mental skills.
"The end result is we want to promote relationships," he said. "Getting connected is bringing people back to life."
He directs a program called LinkingAges that teaches nursing home residents how to communicate with faraway family, old friends and health care providers by using e-mail. The 12-week course ends with a graduation ceremony, and encourages participants to share the e-mail they receive from relatives.
Lansdale told of a woman in her 90s who mastered the lessons and got a message from a granddaughter that said: "Dear Grandma, I can't believe you just sent me e-mail. You're the coolest grandma in California."
Group dynamics of a nursing home can improve the program's success. One resident might exclaim, "Hey, I can do this," and other residents will be emboldened to make the effort themselves - he said in a presentation Saturday.
People who master the technology gain confidence that spreads into other aspects of their lives, and many take pride in helping teach the skills to their fellow residents, he said.
"You have opened up the heavens to me," Lansdale said he was told by one resident who must use a wheelchair.
Douglas McConatha, a sociologist from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, said he observed improved morale and a noticeable drop in depression among nursing home residents who received Internet training as part of a study he conducted.
"It took maybe two training sessions," he said. "You turn them loose in this environment, and a large portion of them flourish. They learned so fast they outpaced the 20-year-old college students learning with them."
McConatha advocated expanded online education programs aimed at attracting retirees both as students and as instructors.
He described one such program, called Circle of Learning, that encourages elderly people to offer courses based on their lifetime experience, on topics ranging from personal finance to hobbies. One man is teaching a course about his Italian grandmother, McConatha said.
"We can now capture the knowledge of our elders and transfer that wisdom to future generations," McConatha said.
Only 25 percent of Americans over age 60 own a computer, compared with 50 percent for the rest of the population, according to research by Microsoft and the American Society on Aging.
One of the keys for expanding Internet use by the elderly is to make equipment and Web sites more accessible to them, Lansdale said. Among changes needed are increased print size on some Web sites and easier-to-use keyboards.