Back in March, I wrote about the social and health advantages of blogging for older people. I listed some of the specialized equipment that can help for those with arthritic and visual problems and I suggested that we who can use computers and blog with ease help an older person to learn.
Now comes word that United Kingdom telecom giant, BT, is encouraging children to help their parents and grandparents become internet savvy.
“The company believes that young people are in the best position to prevent their grandparents from becoming digitally excluded.”
- - BBC News, 24 September 2005
BT’s research shows that nearly a third of parents and grandparents in their study had been encouraged to surf the web by 13- to 16-year-olds, but more surprising is that even younger children are capable of teaching their elders. Nearly 20 percent had learned a new skill with the help of a five-to-eight-year old.
“’It’s wonderful to see the generations united through technology,’ said Mr. Hughes [head of BT digital inclusion]. ‘It’s a real morale boost for yoiung people as they assume the role of teacher and mentor, and to the older generation the internet can open up a whole new world where hobbies and interests can be explored.”
- - BBC News, 24 September 2005
Everybody wins if programs can be developed that get old people online with the help of youngsters. But it’s not just fun and games and intergenerational community. Computer and internet literacy is becoming a crucial life skill for an aging population.
Health care is fast approaching a crisis point. In 2030, the over-65 population of the U.S. will be double what it is today, and currently there is only one geriatrician for every 7,665 older patients. There is no indication that we will be graduating enough geriatricians to meet the coming need. But by teaching older people how to use computers and the internet, we can go a long way toward helping to solve the problem.
Already, the waiting time in doctors’ offices is unreasonably long - hours sometimes - and it is on track to get worse. But a few physicians are beginning to monitor their patients’ conditions, coordinate prescriptions with pharmacists, and decide when office visits or hospitalization are needed - through email. When old people are comfortable using computers, fewer geriatricians can serve more patients who have less acute health problems that require monitoring, but not frequent office visits.
I’m probably behind the curve on this and it could already be being developed, but it can't be long before we also have the capability to monitor vital and other health signs through computers. VoIP will aid these developments too along with video when it gets easier.
It’s not just a matter of preventing older folks from being digitally excluded (which is important too). It could – and I believe, will - become a matter of life and death.
Thanks to government funding during the Clinton administration and a small, dedicated tax attached to our monthly telephone bills, computers are now in 90 percent of our schools. We need a similar push to get them into nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement communities and in homes of older people who live independently on fixed incomes.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be writing about developments in this area and would welcome your ideas too on how we can accomplish this critical goal.