I came across this great article about elderly people at aged care facilities and their use of the Internet and social media.
After reading the article I continued with some quick and dirty research. It is pretty clear, and not very surprising, that only a minority of aged care facilities around the world offer Internet access to their residents. An even smaller minority actually promotes and educates their residents in the use of Internet and social media.
The article mentions that research, carried out in Melbourne, Australia, has shown that while there are many challenges, older people can learn how to use computers, email and social media, and derive huge benefits from doing so. The oldest participant in the research is a 99 year old man who is currently learning to Skype, to keep in touch with relatives in France.
Internet Use per Age Group
A study titled Generations Online in 2009, confirms that surfing the web is still primarily a young person’s game – 18 to 44 year olds accounting for 53% of the total number of users – but in recent years older generations have started closing the gap. The chart below that has been borrowed from the report shows the overall breakdown by age:
So, why is the Internet still a young person’s game? Dr Murnane, involved in recent Melbourne based study, says, “The way we talk about the internet, for example by referring to digital natives and immigrants, helps to build a culture of fear among the non-computer literate. We need to stop thinking about the internet as the preserve of the young; indeed, the way the World Wide Web enables us to explore, learn and communicate might have been especially designed for the elderly or disabled.”
According to Latest Research…
Sociologist Shelia Cotten, currently researching the ability of computer use and social media networking to enhance the quality of life of elderly, says “Many elderly are increasingly isolated and grapple with depression, loneliness and declines in physical health. With an increasing number of elderly living in long-term care facilities and declines in quality of life as people age, we need innovative ways to lessen these negative impacts and to enhance quality of life”
“Internet access provides an important opportunity for mental stimulation, which is closely tied to older people’s health,” said Dr Murnane. “It is also a liberating outlet for those confined to a single building on a day-to-day basis. Everyone living in retirement facilities deserves to experience these benefits.”
Within a few decades there will no doubt be a natural increase in pressure on aged care facilities to make internet easily accessible, as a growing number of computer-literate residents will move in. However, aged care facilities should not wait for residents to demand Internet usage but rather be proactive ensuring existing residents, that didn’t grow with computers and Internet as a part of their daily life, can access the many benefits the Internet provides.
Benefits for the Elderly
- Access to a wealth of knowledge:From health resources to breaking news to how-to-guides, the internet is a robust informational tool providing an important opportunity for mental stimulation, which is closely tied to older people’s health.
- Help decrease inequalities in access to health information due to age-related declines in mobility. An increasing amount of health information is available electronically, says Cotten. “Once older adults cross the digital divide, they can access health information much more easily using the Internet than they can go to the library or visit a health-care professional”
- Increased social opportunities: The Internet allows people worlds apart to communicate with ease through video conferencing, email, social networks, chat rooms, and discussion forums. Elderly can, with the use of the internet, easily connect with sources of social support, and stay in touch with family and friends regardless of their physical abilities.
- Improved mental health: The Phoenix Center, a non-profit organization that studies public-policy issues, found that “spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent in senior citizens” after examining survey responses from 7,000 retired Americans over the age of 55.
- Enhanced brain function: A study conducted at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA discovered that “surfing the web for only a week stimulated areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning in middle-aged and older adults with little internet experience.”
- Allow families to monitor their loved one’s health and quality of care through video conversations
You CAN Teach Old Dogs New Tricks
According to the National Institute of Aging, older age is not in itself a hindrance to computer or Internet use. However, older adults’ use of electronic technology may be affected by age-related changes in vision and in cognition—for example, the ability to remember, learn, think, and reason. Cognitive abilities that change with age and that are likely to affect computer use include working memory, perceptual speed, text comprehension, and spatial memory.
Saying that, recent research clearly disputes the widely-held beliefs that residents of aged care facilities and other elderly people are too old to learn to use the internet.
I know from personal experiences that someone who is a little bit older and completely technologically unequipped can, and want to, learn how to use new technology, especially when they can see the immense benefits that arise.
At a ripe age of 60 my dear mother is still far from an elderly person at an aged care facility. However, I’d say she started off on a very similar level including lack of basic technological understanding and even fear of this perceived complex and scary technological evolution. I am very proud to say that over the years, as I (her only daughter) have travelled and lived abroad, she has gone from making phone calls to sending emails, sending text messages, chatting on msn, talking on Skype and believe it or not, I recently convinced her to get an iPhone 4. Needless to say, she loves it! She is making Skype calls on her phone, downloading applications, taking and sharing photos and videos. She is amazed and ecstatic how technology can help her stay connected with dispersed family members and instantaneously share experiences with someone on the other side of the world.
To Sum Up…
We are the computer and Internet literate generation so it is our responsibility to make it available for those who grew up without the Internet as a part of their daily life. To sum up, there’s a few key things we can do to improve the life of elderly.
- Make Internet access mandatory at aged care facilities
- Take time to educate elderly in the use of Internet, email, social media and technologies that comes with it. This is everyone’s responsibility, children, grandchildren, aged care facilities, local governments; the list goes on and on.
- Keep the elderly in mind when developing websites and applications. I came across this great document (developed by National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine) full of tips on making your website senior friendly
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