Shouldn’t Mentally Capable, Aging Parents Have a Computer?

I attended a Woman’s Club program recently. The youngest attendees were in their 60’s. Most were aged 70-90.  Tea and desserts came after the program. We were seated at tables for four. Two of the women at my table were in their 80’s, one was 90–all widows, bright, alert, and with-it.  A lively discussion (aka argument), with conflicting “facts,” about Bin Laden’s killing and secrecy about Navy Seals’ activities was underway.

I asked if they used a computer.  One answered she used one until she retired, but hadn’t bothered to get one since. Why would these women need a computer? Why should they have a computer?

1.  We know using one’s mind is supposed to keep one mentally sharp (isn’t that why so many play bridge later in life?) and information about seemingly everything is a Google/Yahoo/Bing away.
2.  At the least, exposure to ideas and facts and learning new things adds interest to life.
3.  Adding interest to life keeps people engaged–whether interacting with the computer or with humans.
4.  Knowledge provides independence–great for aging parents; also great for adult children as it can take some responsibility off their shoulders.
5.  Opportunities for connections with others are many.  And connections with others is one of the three most important aspects of aging well according to reputable studies.
6.  Having fun is an important aspect of living and, if nothing else, people can play bridge and other games and enjoy concerts without ever leaving home.

R, at 97, has said many times that if she’d known at age 80 that she was going to live this long, she would have gotten a computer and learned how to use it.

That said, I have friends in their 60’s and 70’s who drive a car without hesitation but won’t use a computer.  Some have one in the house (their husband’s old one?) and access e-mail–when they think about it.  For anything else, they ask their husband or adult children to do it for them. Some smugly say they’d rather talk to a person on the phone; and/or write a letter….”not as impersonal” they think.

But is that fair–fair to impose on family members? –fair to themselves because they miss out on a lot?  Some of my high school classmates have died.  Most of us hear by email.  Yet a close h.s. friend who moved away “put her late husband’s computer in a box” when she moved and proudly says she hasn’t taken it out and doesn’t plan to. Friends can update her about news on the phone, she says. They forget. She’s often clueless. Yet there’s still a lot going on in her life so the consequences aren’t as glaring.

But in the aging population there’s often not that much going on.  So think connections, information, stimulation, fun.  A computer can add all that and more. By enriching older parents’ lives, we help them age well.

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