The Internet is not a new concept. It was born fifty years ago, and has had a revolutionary impact on our daily lives since the 1990’s. However, the discrepancy between Internet users on the basis of their age is still pronounced. According to Pew Research Center, almost 100% of Millennials (people aged 23 to 38) use the Internet, but only 62% of the Silent Generation (74 to 91 years old) have ever been online.
The good news is that the number of seniors using the Internet is constantly growing, the same as the number of senior citizens owning a smartphone or using social media. This can be beneficial in several ways.
Internet is a great way to fight loneliness.
One of the major problems plaguing senior citizens today is the feeling of disconnection and loneliness. It is a public health concern and a deeply personal problem, because loneliness can lead to a range of health issues, including heart attacks, depression and even early death. “Some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary, and just as much as smoking,” say researchers from the University of Michigan. Connection to the Internet provides a chance to build stronger ties with family and friends, especially if they live far away or if the senior has mobility problems.
Internet can help keeping your brain healthy.
Learning new information can slow cognitive aging — the decline in cognitive processing that occurs as people get older. It is important to exercise your brain to keep it healthy, and the Internet can be of great help. The use of modern devices forces the brain to focus on adapting new knowledge, and the Internet provides a plethora of information and activities to learn something new every day. In this way, it also helps to fight boredom and lack of new experiences.
Internet provides new opportunities.
Adaption of online technologies is beneficial not only for the users but also for employers and in a broader sense — for the society. Boredom, lack of funds, disconnection from previous activities — these are all issues troubling retired people, and Internet is a great way to alleviate some them. It gives the opportunity to work from home for a few hours every day or start a small business project without large investments.
While the adaption of technology between senior citizens is growing, it is still important for tech-savvy people to help introducing their parents and grandparents to computers, smartphones and the Internet. What are the best ways to do it?
- Go slow. A very common mistake people make when introducing seniors to technology is expecting them to understand, remember and apply the new knowledge from the first try. Even well-experienced technology users struggle with adaption of new software or switching between different systems (my first experience with a Mac ended close to tears because their default Excel-type thing does not allow splitting cells). The gap between a piece of paper and an e-mail is much wider, and it will take some time to bridge it.
- Be ready to repeat stuff. Did your mum gave up after the first three times you couldn’t tie your shoelaces or wipe your butt properly? Probably not. Be ready for the same questions to creep up again and again. There are typically some standard problems, and you can help write a cheat sheet for it, indicating what to do if it arises again.
- Don’t get angry. Introducing computer-illiterate people to the web is a daunting task. It is important to keep calm, polite, and helpful, and take a step back if you feel too overwhelmed. Get ready to be blamed for everything happening in the computer (My computer is full of viruses because you downloaded the chrome thing. — No, your cat stepped on the keyboard and now your screensaver is changed.). Get ready to be called with questions over and over again. Don’t forget the most common solution for this: call your grandmother first, and ask how she’s doing — then she won’t need to think up a computer-related the question to have a reason to call.
Internet is source of great joy (and sometimes great sorrow) for many of us, and you can help your closest senior citizens to experience the same. Good luck!