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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wi-fi and Computer Labs for Every Nursing Home Now

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file.

Prevailing views hold that seniors are computer-phobic, but the reality is that seniors use and benefit from blogs, podcasts, myspace (etc), Skype (etc), as well as from e-mail and access to the Internet. The truth is, seniors are avid users of the Internet, and there should be no reason that failing eyesight, hearing, mobility (arthritis, etc.), or cognitive disabilities should cut them off from the world, and from regular contact with loved ones – even if they are in assisted living, a nursing home, and no longer able to live at home or with family. In fact, assisted access to the Internet could serve as powerful motivation to stay intellectually engaged with the world, to maintain healthy habits, and to combat the loneliness and depression that often follows a senior as they move into their new habitat.

Granted, the man or woman who came of age in the 1940s or 1950s has seen huge changes in terms of communication, information dissemination, and technology. Chances are, they came of age in a time when all data entry and processing was done by someone else, and the computing capacity you hold in the palm in your hand used to require a city block of computers.

Nevertheless, we tend to forget that older citizens do not categorically resist technological change. How could they? If the stereotypes were true, not one senior would be able to function in a society that has been typified by rapid and persistent technological change.

After reading an article about elder neglect in nursing homes, I started to think of how one could help combat the problems. After discussing the issue in an online forum, I started to formulate a few ideas about how to start implementing access to e-mail, etc. in a nursing home.

Here are some of the benefits of having a three or four-station computer lab with a college intern tech-support person to help, and with low-vision and low-hearing equipment, with accommodations for mobility issues and cognitive impairment.

1---Stay in touch with relatives.
-send and receive photos and movies of relatives
-send and receive daily updates from relatives and friends, which can provide a real boost to the senior, who now has something to look forward to.

2---Overcome disabilities due to low vision, low hearing, arthritis, cognitive issues
-using large icon navigation on 17-inch monitors gives seniors a renewed sense of self-efficacy and self-determination;
-Skype and other voice-over telephony can help with low-vision, especially with the kind of headphones that fit over hearing aids; vodcasts and image-enhanced telephony can help gain a sense of a real person on the other end of the line.

3---Provide updates on conditions in the nursing, which gives the administration a chance to
-showcase positive aspects and to have website and weblogs to answer questions.
-post photos to show conditions, which could be great publicity, marketing, and a wonderful generator of goodwill and a spirit of openness.

4---Answer questions via bulletin board and discussion forum.

5---Send electronic greeting cards, keep key birthdates in calendar.

6---Use expertise to design cards, create online art, providing consulting and expert advice, and otherwise stay engaged in one’s former life / area of expertise.

7---Take online courses for intellectual engagement. Popular courses could be memoir-writing, writing a historical novel, learning about alternative medicines, exploring culture, science, etc.

8---Create audio messages to download to mp3 player.

The benefits to the seniors and to the nursing home / assisted living center could be staggering. The first benefits might be an alleviation of a sense of isolation. It could serve as an effective intervention for those who are running the risk of running beginning to develop negative beliefs about themselves, and to think of themselves as helpless and isolated. With a well-equipped lab with equipment that accommodates disabilities and special needs, it would be possible to create a sense of access, empowerment, and renewed self-efficacy. Instead of being cut off and isolated, seniors could feel a renewed sense of community and could feel vital, alive, and relevant to their family, friends, and the world at large.

I’d like to see a couple of pilots started and would love to get involved. If anyone would like more suggestions or ideas, please contact me. susan at beyondutopia dot com

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