January 13th, 2012 at 1:44 pm
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Live alone longer? Seniors connect via the Internet

by Judy Kirkwood

By the time we got my mother a laptop computer, she was too cognitively impaired to work the keyboard as she had when she was an ace executive secretary. It might have made a world of difference had we gotten her connected with the Internet earlier.

In a collaborative effort to enrich the lives of shut-ins, Microsoft, Selfhelp Community Services, New York’s Department of Aging, and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications combined forces to promote Internet use by seniors in an innovative but simple project: The Virtual Senior Center. Although this was a funded project that benefited a limited number of people, it is conceivable that results could be replicated across the country.

Elders and the Internet: joining the outside world

The project started in 2010 with six low-income elderly people between ages 67 and 103 who were homebound. They were trained (twice a week for several months) to use computers so they could participate virtually in social activities like a current events class or lecture on art by a museum expert, both offered at the Selfhelp Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center in Queens. But the training also opened up their world to tuning into music, watching movies and youtube videos (even making and posting them), and ordering necessities like groceries online, as well as keeping up with family and tracking down long lost friends.

Microsoft helped seniors with age-related impairments with assistive technology such as screen readers or track balls, and built-in accessibility options and programs in Windows 7 that make it easier to see, hear and use their computers. The easy-to-use interface was called It’s Never Too Late. Other adaptations included keys in alphabetical order for those who had never typed and couldn’t learn the keyboard layout.

The Wall Street Journal featured 87-year-old Martin Greidinger, an outspoken homebound retiree, in a video last June. Extremely active, even recording himself singing songs (because he always wanted to be in a band), he said the computer brought him back to life. A New York Times article about the project pointed out that Greidinger Skypes with his social worker for check-ins and takes his own blood pressure and transfers the data to a Microsoft personal health management site. Greidinger appeared to be having the time of his life with his new friend the computer and all it offers. It’s better than having a wife, he commented, because there are no arguments.

Maybe not better than a wife for most homebound seniors, but the computer is certainly one of our biggest allies for keeping the elderly engaged in life.

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One Response to “Live alone longer? Seniors connect via the Internet”

  1. Albie

    I totally agree with this article. You never need to be alone in the world. There is so much activity online that there is something for everybody. Even a cheap cellphone, like a Tracfone, can keep someone in touch and active with calling and texting.

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