The Internet offers promising new ways to end isolation and loneliness among the senior citizens we love. This is no small thing. Relationships, after all, are at the core of mental and even physical health.
The 2004 Australian longitudinal study of aging examined the social networks of 1,477 people aged 70 years and older. They found that people who had greater networks of friends had a greater survival rate over the next 10 years. Here in America, researchers Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith at Brigham Young University studied data from 148 previously published longitudinal studies that measured how human interaction impacts health. They found that social connections improve our odds for survival by 50 percent.
In his best-selling book Healthy at 100, John Robbins writes that the most important predictor of good health and a long life is the quality of our relationships.
Our challenge, then, is to help seniors remain connected. If you love a senior who has become isolated and perhaps depressed, you can make a major difference by introducing him or her to the world on the web.
Some things to consider:
The Internet can seem overwhelming at first. Remind the person that in their lifetime they’ve already done many things that are probably far more difficult. They probably performed tasks on the job and at home that were once just as new and mysterious at the time. They can do this. Suggest they take a deep breath and remind themselves that they are smart and capable. Then go slow and take it one step at a time. And be patient. You may find cruising the Internet as easy as writing a note. But for someone whose last innovation in communication was the electric typewriter, this is a whole new world.
If the person has physical limitations, consult with your local computer store about adaptations that are available. Many seniors, for example, find it difficult to double-click due to tremors or coordination problems that come with old age or medication side effects. Their computer can be adapted to slow down the interval between clicks. If their vision is impaired, increase the size of icons and fonts.
Take the time to have them test drive both a desktop and a tablet. You want to minimize frustration and maximize pleasure. Some people, especially those who know how to touch-type, like a keyboard. Others are more comfortable with a tablet touch screen. Some models convert handwriting to print. If both typing and writing are challenging, see about getting voice-activated software.