Archive for October 16th, 2009

Can the Interent save seniors?

A new study from the Phoenix Center says regular Internet usage can decrease depression in retired senior citizens by 20% and potentially save milliions in health care costs. The Phoenix Center, a non-profit policy research center, is pushing for broadband initiatives to include senior citizens, only 62% of whom use the Internet, according to The Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Enabling senior citizens to stay in touch with family and friends electronically is a no-brainer. If millions of U.S. citizens who aren’t senior citizens enjoy staying in touch with friends - and finding old friends - via Facebook, why wouldn’t grandparents and great-aunts and uncles enjoy the same thing? Especially when they have more time on their hands than those still in the workplace. Young people too busy to call an elderly relative might have time for a quick text or other kind of electronic message.

Internet usage also provides the ability to stay more mentally active and more up-to-date on world issues, which can prolong life and help ward off the various forms of dementia that set in as we age.

Unfortunately, enabling senior citizens to use the Internet isn’t as easy as making sure they have access to PCs and broadband access - and those things are challenging in and of themselves. The level of support seniors require, especially as they move into their 70s and 80s, as more people do today, is vastly different from what the rest of the population needs. Basic issues around computer usage can prevent successful Web surfing, much less use of email or more advanced programming. Things that even my generation takes for granted - the ability to type and to understand computer speak - are things that can stump an older crowd.

I’ve often told the story of my mom, who got her first computer at age 65 and, after two days of using it, called me to tell me she had to take it back to the story because she’d gotten a message that her computer had performed an “illegal procedure.” At the time, that was Microsoft-speak for a Windows problem, but to my mom, “illegal” had one meaning and one meaning only.

Now I’m not trying to say that old folks can’t use computers, so please don’t jump to that conclusion. According to the Phoenix Center, I’m one of the old people - although I still work so I wouldn’t qualify for their study.

What I am trying to say is that the goals set forth here - enabling seniors to stay electronically connected and mentally stimulated via the Internet - are very worthy, but fraught with challenges that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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