April 4, 2011
Seniors are sometimes fearful of the latest technology. But Internet services like Skype and email can keep them connected to family and friends, which could lift their spirits and help prevent loneliness and depression.
Q. My 78-year-old widowed mother spends her days on the computer and I'm worried about her lack of companionship. Should I be?
Here's an interesting study: Spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent for senior citizens, the Phoenix Center reports. In addition to the quality of life benefits, reducing the cases of depression through widespread Internet use among older Americans could trim the nation's health care bill.
"Maintaining relationships with friends and family at a time in life when mobility becomes increasingly limited is challenging for the elderly," says Phoenix Center visiting scholar and study co-author Dr. Sherry G. Ford, an associate professor of Communications Studies at University of Montevallo in Alabama. "Increased Internet access and use by senior citizens enables them to connect with sources of social support when face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult."
The Policy Paper, Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly, examines survey responses of 7,000 retired Americans 55 years or older.
The implications of the findings are significant because depression affects millions of Americans age 55 or older and costs the United States about $100 million annually in direct medical costs, suicide and mortality, and workplace costs. Further, with billions spent annually on depression-related health care costs, the potential economic savings also are impressive.
Technology also is a great way to keep the generations connected. If getting your family together is not feasible because of schedules or health issues, why not develop a plan to help your mom make regular contact with your family using technology. If your senior needs more training in some of these computer issues, perhaps she would like to take a class at a local high school or community college.
Then set up a regular schedule of emailing messages to your family. Services like Skype are available to families to hear and see one another, even from a distance. Affordable web cams could be a gift to your mom so that she watch her grandchildren or great-grandchildren playing a song on the piano or showing off their latest school project.
While the Internet could lift your mom's spirits and help keep her in touch with family and friends living elsewhere, companions and friends whom she sees in person are vital for that personal touch.
That's why you might want to suggest a caregiving companion to your mother. Home Instead Senior Care® hires seniors, many of whom are older adults, to be companions and home helpers for other seniors. Efforts are made to match CAREGiversSM with those of similar interests to seniors. What's more, Home Instead CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured.
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