The Cottages Blog

How and Why Seniors Should Get Online

Posted by Susan Abercrombie on May 11, 2017 9:00:00 AM

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According to one study, only 42 percent of seniors ages 65 and older in the United States are occasionally using the Internet or email. There are several benefits to being connected online. Seniors who use the Internet are often happier and healthier as a result of several different factors. Here is why you should start using the Internet more, if you’re not already, and the benefits that being online has.

So why are more seniors not online? Decreased memory, attention span, cognitive speed, and poorer eyesight and motor control are all a part of normal aging, to a point. Unfortunately, all of these capacities are necessary in order to use a computer or similar electronic device. For many seniors, it can take nearly twice as long to learn a digital skill as it takes younger adults. Seniors are more likely to experience online errors and confusion, so they may decide that getting online is not worth the trouble. If your senior loved one is uninterested in getting online, consider the benefits and then slowly help them without being pushy about it.

Benefits of Being Online for Seniors

Increased Happiness

A recent study found that seniors who used the Internet had increased levels of life satisfaction when compared to those who did not use the Internet. Seniors in the study who had health problems and smaller social groups showed the highest increase of life satisfaction. The same study looked at several different types of online behavior and found that sending and receiving emails and shopping online were linked to the highest increases of happiness. Using social media and playing games did not increase or decrease happiness. For those seniors who had health problems, finding information through Internet searches increased their satisfaction. This activity did not affect healthy seniors.

Better Social Connections

Nearly 60 percent of seniors over the age of 75 do not use any type of electronic device that can get online, such as a computer or tablet. This means that those seniors are left out of the types of conversations and connections that many of the rest of us have come to need and love. Without the proper social connections, seniors can become isolated and lonely. The internet and social media are particularly useful for seniors whose family members live far away from them. Seniors can share photos, videos, emails, and texts with all of the people they love just by using their fingertips. They can also stay connected to and informed about community events and clubs that interest them.

Lower Rates of Depression

While social media connections did not prove to increase happiness levels in the previously mentioned study, other studies have found that having social connections online can lower a senior’s risk of developing depression. Those same studies found that spending time online can cut down on depression among seniors by 20 percent. By being involved in the Internet and social media, seniors can connect with family members, friends, and others around the world who may share similar interests or health concerns. Staying social helps to prevent feelings of isolation in seniors and helps to foster feelings of comfort, love, and acceptance.

Help Seniors Get Online

If you want to get your senior loved online and social, there are a couple of steps that you can take to help them.

Let Them Know It Will Benefit Others

If your senior loved one tells you that they don’t need a computer or an internet connection, tell them that it would benefit you and their other loved ones if they got online. Explain that having them connected to emails, text messages, and family Facebook groups makes it so much easier for the rest of the family to communicate with the senior. Many seniors are more open to the idea of trying something new if they know it helps their family out.

Focus on One Feature at a Time

When teaching your senior loved one about any type of technology that’s new to them, make sure you only show them one feature at a time. Presenting too much information at one time can increase confusion and frustration and cause your senior loved one to back out of trying to get online. Start with something like sending an email. Remember that even something as small as sending an email requires several steps, such as logging in, composing your message, choosing your recipient, and sending the email. On a piece of loose paper, write down the steps as you show your senior loved one what to do. Write the steps as simply as possible, then tape the piece of paper near the senior’s computer or tablet so they have a reference when they finally decide to try it on their own.

Do Not Expect Immediate Responses

Remember that it is going to take some time for your senior loved one to grow accustomed to using this new technology. Just as with everything else, it may take a while for your senior loved one to grasp certain aspects of being present online, such online etiquette, the shorthand for certain phrases, and how to navigate around. If you send a group email to the entire family, you may not get a response from your senior loved one even if they read the message, and that’s ok. If, after a while, you are concerned that they are still confused about being online, continue to provide help, understanding, and patience.

 

Caregiver's Field Guide to Assisted Living

Topics: Science and Technology

Susan Abercrombie

Written by: Susan Abercrombie

Susan has 32 years of nursing experience caring for seniors in assisted living and doctors’ offices. She now manages two Cottage communities in Alabama. Susan and her husband of 30 years, Tim, have two dogs, Sydney and Macy.