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Computers Connecting Seniors

Living at a distance from family and friends, poor health and even bad weather can increase feelings of isolation and affect a senior's overall well-being. Learning how to use the computer can help.

You can send and receive email messages, view and share photos, and participate in church, community and hobby discussion groups. Learning how to navigate the Internet makes it easy to search for information. Seniors with mobility problems can also bank, order groceries, make travel bookings, and buy books and gifts - all without leaving home.

"Computer training has a startling number of benefits, once people realize what it can do," says Diane Henders, owner of Bright Ideas, a Calgary-based training company.  Creating connections is among the most important, she adds. "It can be another way to check in and monitor health and safety of elderly parents living on their own."

Navigating email and the Internet are top priorities for seniors who sign up for training courses. According to Henders, three out of four have never used a computer before - and half of the students are over 80 years of age.

Computer training is available through many sources - the public library, seniors' centres, continuing education classes as well as private tutoring. Here's what to look for in a computer training class:

1. Class size: how much one-on-one attention can I expect?

2. Does the teacher understand the learning needs of seniors? Are they primarily a technical expert or a teacher? Ask for ratings from past students.

3. Is the training hands-on? Are there enough computers for each student?

4. Will you learn the same programs that you have on your own computer?

5. Is this course the right pace and level for you? For example, does it assume that you have experience, or does it start with how to turn the computer on?

6. Is the teaching environment right for you? Does the room set-up and the pace of the course allow for health issues like arthritis, or vision and hearing impairments?

For many seniors, the thought of taking a computer course can be intimidating. They might feel overwhelmed by jargon or wonder if they might "break the computer". Many have valid concerns about computer viruses and privacy. It might be decades since they have been in school. Many might not realize that teaching methods of old have changed, and that learning needs of adults and seniors are far better understood today.

"I often hear this concern about not being 'smart enough'", says Henders. "But if you are not grasping the skills, it's more likely the fault of the teacher than the student."  For some seniors, private sessions can be the answer. For more information about individual training, visit http://www.brightideasweb.ca/serv_indiv.html.

Learning to use a computer creates greater connections and convenience, and opens up new opportunities for learning, belonging, and staying vital.

Vol. 4, No. 7
© ElderWise Publishing 2008.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc., Canada's "go to" place for families with aging parents, who want clear, concise and timely information about health, housing and relationships. Visit us at
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