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Can you picture your grandparents on Reddit? How about World of Warcraft? Yeah, me neither. The most extreme technology my Babcia and Dziadzia had was a television. Unless you think a radio trumps a television (but why would you), in which case, they had one of those too. Tech-savvy or what?

Approximately 53% of older adults (over the age of 65 years) have joined us younger folk in Googling, surfing the ‘net, and stalking people they went to high school with on Facebook. This number has increased over the years, which may or may not surprise you. Our generation (I’m assuming we’re the same age, play along here) has grown up with the Internet, and as such, we are the people that the general public would picture being online. It’s great that seniors are joining in the digital revolution; after all, why should we be the only ones reaping the benefits of the Internet?

You probably think I’m crazy at this point, but I’m not suggesting that your grandparents should know the answer to “when does the narwhal bacon”? All I’m saying is that seniors should take advantage of our constantly evolving digital world. Hear me out.

Benefits

Middle-aged and older adults may benefit from using the Internet by increasing the health of their brains. Notice I didn’t mention young adults? Interestingly, there are studies that say that young adults have more trouble focusing on longer pieces of writing due to the Internet. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows blames the amount of time we spend looking at our computer and smartphone screens for the fact that we can no longer sustain concentration.

For seniors though, the benefits are extraordinary.

Internet use is good for the brain

Surfing the web can help to counteract the physical changes that occur in the brain during the aging process. Searching on the Internet helps to stimulate areas of the brain involved in decision-making and reasoning. This makes sense, doesn’t it, when we already know that stimulating activities like crossword puzzles and Sudoku help to minimize the impacts of aging. Taking part in daily brain-stimulating activities can reduce the risk of dementia, because as the saying goes, we need to use it or lose it.

Improved Quality of Life

Many older adults live in retirement or nursing homes, unable to access transportation or live independently. As someone who works in a retirement home, I have seen lonely seniors frequently. By owning a computer and obtaining access to the Internet, older adults could dramatically increase their quality of life.

Communication
Through programs such as Skype and web cameras, seniors could communicate in a personal way with their friends and family. Other forms of communication could include online messaging services, social media, and e-mail. Family photos have never been easier to share with sites like Flickr, Zooomr and Photobucket.

It is a known fact that one of the side effects of aging can be hearing loss. Anyone who has tried to communicate with a person who is hard-of-hearing can attest to the frustration that can occur when the person who you are talking to can’t hear you. I am quite sure that not being able to hear doesn’t make things very easy on the people who are hard-of-hearing either. Communicating online through e-mail or messaging services is a really great option for conversing in this situation. Thinking back to when my grandparents were alive, the idea of using the Internet seems like it could have been a great option since they lived so far away.

Hobbies
Older adults could spend time playing games online, either by themselves or with other people. A hobby like online gaming, while proving addicting for young adults, can be mentally stimulating for seniors. Seniors could also use the Internet to search for information to supplement their hobbies, such as knitting patterns or new card games.

Convenience
With websites like eBay, Etsy and Amazon (among others), seniors can do a great deal of their shopping online if they find it tedious or difficult to travel. Almost anything can be purchased securely online these days, even groceries! Sometimes items can be more affordable online as well, and for people living on a pension or disability allowance, saving money can be very important.

Education

The residents at the retirement home I work at obtain their daily news from the local newspapers and television news stations, but if they want news from other newspapers, the Internet can do just that. Most newspapers are available online now, and are updated throughout the day. Online newspapers are user-friendly and easy to read and navigate.

Another important use for the Internet for seniors is access to health information. Understandably, older adults tend to be concerned about health problems as they age, and many questions can be answered via the Internet. For example, Health Canada has a website devoted to seniors health information. From nutrition to medication information, the web can be very informative.

What Issues Do Seniors Face? 

 So why don’t more seniors use computers? Good question!

Some of the obstacles holding seniors back from joining the rest of the world online include:

  • the fact that learning new technology can be daunting;
  • poor eyesight;
  • the dangers we hear about related to identity fraud, and;
  • the fear of error-messages which make computers appear less user-friendly.

Innovative Options for Seniors

At the retirement home I work at, there are a handful of residents who own computers with Internet access, and from what I’ve seen, they are all regular computers, like you and I might own. For many seniors, normal computers seem to be just fine once they learn how to use the computers.

Easy-to-use Computers

There are companies who specialize in providing specialized computers to seniors who need something a little more user friendly. For example, Telikin calls itself the “world’s easiest computer”. Telikin provides a large, touchscreen device that includes a keyboard with larger print. These computers are actually pretty modern looking and to be honest, I wouldn’t be ashamed of using one!

Specialized Software

Many older adults find it more convenient to just purchase (or be given) a regular computer, like you or I might own. For those people, there are companies like PointerWare and Eldy. These programs appear to be easy to install and use, and just provide a simpler interface for seniors.

Websites

For older adults who don’t really want to go the previously mentioned routes, there are always helpful websites to help provide information and computer skills, generally free of charge.

So How Do I Get Grandma Online?

Here are some easy steps to make computers more accessible for the older adults you know and love:

  1. Reduce the screen resolution to increase the size of text (and everything else). For those with 20/20 (or decent) vision, this looks unattractive but can really make reading easier for vision-impaired people.
  2. Increase the contrast to enhance readability.
  3. Increase the size of font and icons.
  4. Customize the start menu to display large icons and navigate to frequently used programs.
  5. Increase the magnification level.
  6. Enable StickyKeys, FilterKeys and ToggleKeys
  7. Customize the scrolling and clicking speed on the mouse.

At this point, I hope you understand the benefits of getting your grandparents online as soon as possible! For our generation going forward, I think it’ll be harder to get off the computer personally, but that’s for another generation to worry about. Now go get grandma online!

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