Fear of Getting Old – Part 2: Becoming a Burden
Oprah’s Ageism

Older Folks’ Need For Computer Skills

category_bug_journal2.gif 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.


For years, my husband resisted getting a computer. He sold them all his work life - and he didn't want one around home. But my son decided I ought to have one, so he gave me an older one and taught me how to get online and send email. That was in 1999; now here 6 years and 3 computers later, I write a blog, surf with ease and send email all over the world. I surely hope my son knows what a wonderful favor he did for me!

I have asked a number of doctors if they can answer routine questions or give advice by email. All I have gotten is a deer-in-the-headlights look. One even asked me "Why would I want to do that?" I guess he was right, that would eliminate a $175 visit where he spends 90 seconds with me.

Every classroom in our school was given two computers years ago. I was a total phobic computer person. I hated those two invaders and wanted nothing more than a computer lab where I could send my class to practice under the supervision of someone who knew what they were doing. This never happened. I learned from my eight and nine year olds how to make my way around the computer. However, the most valuable lesson I learned was in watching them work. NO FEAR! APPROACH WITH GUSTO! ENJOY! YOU CAN'T BREAK IT.

I agree most heartily. It is a little scarey at first, but great to learn something new and the internet opens up a lot of the world.

interesting-- and what about what happens when we become quite forgetful-- more information should available as soon as posible

This is a great topic! I intend to comment on computer use and availability for some of our older ("elder" in deference to Ronni) population. But first, I want to describe what it takes for some of us to finally get "computerized."

I had limited use of a computer over the years at work places. Received only the barest instruction for what little I needed to input. Didn't have time for formal instruction away from there. Kept saying I'd get a computer, then that "every 2 years"-of-change based on what's-his-names's law would kick in again. I always wanted the latest most up-to-date model, but wanted to wait until the price came down. Well, of course when the price came down, then there was a new better model, more expensive; a never-ending cycle. We had been among the first to get color TV, once I saw what it could look like in a TV station control room, many years ago. But a computer ....

Meanwhile, I'm reading the newspaper articles re computers, subscribing to a number of the new magazines about the net, so I won't be totally illiterate. My friend and colleague has gotten a computer almost from the beginning; is excited with all the info at her fingertips; has a period of "addiction" with computer games; mistakenly identifies her profession in some computer conversation group and is over-whelmed with questions; trouble-shoots operational problems with other beginner-computer-user family members.

I have several family members working in the computer tech world during this time, so get their varying attitudes and stories. My son visited with a laptop, so he helped me set up an email account. After he left had him or my dtr on the East Coast access it periodically to keep it active. Another year when I visited her, I immediately emailed select individuals, gave them a time frame covering my visit there, telling them they could email me. Messages flew back and forth. Yet, I still didn't get a computer. My brother, 10 years older got a computer, but not me.

You see, I had decided I wanted to go wireless by then. Even phoned our local municipality officials to press for our entire city being wired for wireless, or whatever it is they have to do.

Well, my son had had enough by then. They were getting new computers, so when they visited this Spring, they forewarned me they would be bringing me one of their older ones. Well, the rest is my computer history.

I've even experienced my own bit of "addiction" once I decided to venture into this blog world and found TGB. No more overniters on the computer as can't do that and maintain work and a life, too.

There are select individuals who have and use computers in their rooms at some better quality skilled nursing and assisted living facilities as well as in independent living retirement communities.

I know that most recently, in just such settings, a delightful lady, Janis David Cooley, ED.D., authored a recently published book entitled THE HOUSE OF DAVID - A Family History (a well-written fascinating story for anyone interested in family, U.S. Civil War, a little humor, and much more.)

I know of other computer users, all at various levels of care, one who had been a broadcaster in a major market; another who had previously written about Indian Playing Cards and was working on another book.

That said, the number of computers available to individuals, much less someone to train and/or assist them in their use, in settings (facilities or at home) for those with limited or fixed income is pretty non-existent in Southern California. I suspect this is true all over our country.

I can see the potential and visualize different ways to set up such computer use programs in those settings if computers were provided; if qualified volunteers or monies to hire such people was made available.

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