Friday, June 23, 2017

Using Technology to Ease Aging Parent's Lonliness

Image result for seniors on facetime

More people are living longer lives than we have seen previously.  This is in part to do such factors as better knowledge about nutrition, improved medical treatment, increased physical activity and the overall awareness of health related factors.  Yet as people live longer they often become lonely and isolated, a widespread problem among seniors.  
Often there is the loss of a spouse, family members and good friends, the loss of abilities such as hearing or vision decline, or the ability to drive, less opportunities for social interactions and social events, and after retirement and children become adults with their own families, the loss of a goal or purpose in life.  Most seniors prefer to remain in their homes when possible.  
Overall, the aging senior often feels an absence of fun, excitement and connections with their family and peers.  All these factors can lead to increasing loneliness resulting in depression.  Relatives who live far away may want to help but just don’t know how.
Consider teaching your relative to use technology as a means of maintaining connections.  A computer with a camera can form an instant connection to anyone in the family (albeit that means there may be added pressure on you to look well groomed which non-video communication doesn’t require!) Even someone who has never touched a computer before can learn if they’re willing.  
For one of my parents anniversaries my brothers and I bought them a very simple machine that was just for email.  My father couldn’t use it due to his arthritis and my mother, who was in her 80’s at the time,  announced she would never touch the thing and we needed to take it back.  
One of my brothers set it up anyway and we just left it there for a day or so.  My mom called just wondering how hard it was to operate, not that she intended to do so of course.  We just had a general discussion about how easy it was which I kept short then shifted topic to her grandchildren.  Next she called one of my brothers for a similar purpose and he took it to the next level encouraging her and convincing her she’d have no trouble learning to use it.  Another day or two went by and my mom called my other brother and asked him to come over and just show her how to use it so she could see how it worked.  The final step was when my niece went over and went through everything with her step by step.  
The next thing we knew, emails were flying fast and furiously, to the point we at times regretted the gift.  This was largely due to the fact that while she learned how to email she didn’t appreciate that when an email arrived somewhere this didn’t set off an alarm where we were or send some sort of nanobot out to find us, retrieve us and make use sit and write her back (this was before the ease of mobile technology).  
It also didn’t cross her mind that any of us were doing anything at the time and might not be able to get back to her ASAP.  So she would email one child and upon not receiving an immediate response call one of the other children to say how worried she was having them call child number one.  She then emailed child number three since she’d just spoken to child number two and as, in the meantime she had received a reply from errant child number one, upon not receiving a reply from child number three called child number one about number three.
This went on in various combinations through the day and it never completely abated though the calls stopped and she just used guilt if you didn’t reply immediately.  Now my mother is the queen of the “i”  -  iphone, ipad, ipod with every other computer based item known to mankind.  She is far better with computers than I am and despite explaining I don’t have an “i”anything, is horrified I don’t “do facetime”.  
My mom was never tech savvy at all. Nor did she have any interests to become tech savvy.   Yet when she learned she could keep in touch with her family using it she was completely on board and did what it took to learn how to operate it.  Some people may assume that seniors aren’t capable of accomplishing things in which they don’t engage.  Yet  it may be more a matter of whether something benefits them than ability.  
If you can show them how technology can get them something they want such as feeling more connected to friends and family and  feeling less lonely and isolated then you may find they are quite adept at learning the needed skills.  Just beware.  Once the genie is out of the bottle you can’t force him back in and I guarantee he will be visiting you frequently with emails, techs and requests for facetime!

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