Although we may like the idea of living to a ripe old age few people actually look forward to old age itself. Older people have their own problems. For one thing the chance of physical ill health increases and levels of mobility often diminish considerably. Isolation and loneliness can be a big problem. Sometimes dealing with very practical issues such as sight and hearing can help, but sometimes it’s the fact that family has moved away and friends the same age are experiencing their own problems.
Depression is also an issue. Health problems and isolation can sometimes conspire to make life a pretty bleak place. As health deteriorates so depression gets worse. Depression itself comes with plenty of physical symptoms and sleep problems, so this, perhaps along with worries and anxieties about becoming older, still frailer and more isolated, makes it harder still.
Most young people in the developed nations have been brought up with the internet. They’ve never known a time when it wasn’t available. Even so, there are plenty of people around, me included, that very easily remember a time when there was no such thing as the world-wide web, cell phones or mobile devices. People in their middle-age or early old-age are more likely to have made the transition to computers, if only for their work. Older people are far less likely to own or use a computer and they often find the concept of computer use difficult to comprehend. Yet there is increasing evidence that the psychological benefits of getting online are helpful for combating both loneliness and depression.
Estimates vary but it is suggested that up to three quarter of women over the age of 75 have never been online. In one study by the charity AgeUK, older people who know how to use the internet were nearly three times less likely to say they felt lonely. Four out of five felt less side-lined and more a part of modern society. Both these issues are tremendously important to many elderly people. Most will say they don’t want to be a burden, but they do like to stay in contact with friends and relatives. And most also want to feel a part of life, not marginalized or made to feel of little or no value.
This month, The Gerontological Society of America, declared that spending time online has the potential to ward off the possibility of depression by a factor of 33 percent. If true, the potential benefits to around 10 million late-life depression sufferers age 50 and over, are clear to see.
These days encouraging elderly people, or those with little or no experience of internet use, seems an entirely sensible course of action. It isn’t difficult to pick up a cheap computer and even if this isn’t an option most libraries provide a computers for general use.
Before he died, my neighbor embarked on Internet use for the first time at the grand old age of 80-something. In the first few weeks I spent a good few hours explaining (and explaining and explaining) basic principles and unpicking various minor disasters, but we got there in the end and he had a great time emailing his relatives overseas and receiving and storing their photographs. So, if you can help or offer your services in this regard you’ll be doing a great service.