Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seniors and the Computer

The other day in the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, I read an article titled "Seniors cruising the Information Highway" about how Sen. John McCain is an Internet "illiterate" and Kathryn Robinson (age 106) who began using the Internet at age 98! It said she started to learn because she wanted to email her family. This triggered this post about my dad. I have great admiration for any senior who tackles the challenge of learning to use a computer since I observed the struggles my dad went through.

By age 88 Harry was very hard of hearing to where it became extremely difficult to talk on the phone with him. It was embarrassing when he'd call me at work about something and I had to keep repeating things over and over and over so he could understand what I was saying. It got to the point where sometimes he never could understand. I'd get very frustrated to the point of giving up and saying "I'LL TALK TO YOU TOMORROW, GOODY-BYE" and hang up.

I suggested he get a computer so we could communicate through email. He agreed that sounded like a good idea so bought himself a computer. Little did I know what a challenge it would be for him. Since the whole reason for getting the computer was so we could email each other, I tried teaching him that first. Well, actually the first step was showing him how to get to his email. We are talking baby steps!

The first challenge was learning to use the mouse without right clicking every 10 seconds or so. Mind you, he can't hear so I had to write down everything so just communicating instructions or bits of information was a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w process! I was determined to be very patient though because I was excited that he was willing to learn. He had great difficulty using the mouse because of not only arthritis in his fingers, but he also was diabetic and had numbness in the ends of his fingers so couldn't really tell how much pressure he was using and would constantly be right-clicking accidentally.

Not only did Harry have trouble right-clicking the mouse, but also moving the mouse around the screen which brings me to the second challenge of being unable to read the screen because he had poor eyesight as well. Consequently, he had great problems even seeing where the cursor was. There's only so much one can do to make the words and icons bigger, and not all the word size is adjustable. Harry used a magnifying glass to read the screen. To make matters worse, when dad finally did get the cursor on the icon or the scroll down bar and went to click, he would look down at the mouse and then by the time he clicked it, he would accidentally move the cursor. Imagine how frustrating that would be!

Still, we persisted. He was amazed and excited to read order confirmations he received when I'd order things for him from his Home Trends catalog on the Internet. He'd say, "the more I use this computer, the more I like it." Dad was a very patient man and going slow did not bother him at all. I tried sending him an email from work but he'd wait for me to come over the next morning to pull it up for him to read. This defeated the whole purpose of sending the email. Well, I still had hope and figured in time he'd catch on.

Next, using the keyboard proved to be the third challenge we faced because Harry was never a typist. He always used the hunt-n-peck method. Now though, with the arthritis and numbness in his fingers, it proved to be more challenging than ever! I finally worked on showing him how to create an email to send to me but it took him about 40 minutes to type me out a one line message. Needless to say, he didn't send me any emails after that.

The final challenge Harry faced was his short-term memory. There were just so many things to remember that he felt totally overwhelmed and he couldn't help it. I wrote out what I thought were step-by-step instructions on separate cards by topic for whatever he wanted to do such as ones for sending email, using the Internet, reading emails. Just real basic stuff. I used very big print but still, we never even got that far for him to use them on his own.

We both felt very bad about the computer sitting there all day unused and paying for his Internet service that really only Gerard and I used when we'd come to visit him. I did set up the weather for him on his home page, but that was about the only thing he could really use it for on his own. He got the computer the end of July and by the end of October, it was plain that Harry learning to actually use it on his own wasn't going to happen. It was just too difficult for him. When I offered to buy it from him, his eyes lit up and I could see how relieved he was. Gerard and I didn't plan on getting a computer until after we retired because I had access to one at work and knew if I had one at home too, I'd be on it ALL day. (I was right by the way!)

At least we tried and I am so proud of my dad for being open to the idea and really trying his best to learn it. It actually brought us closer and certainly helped me understand his problems better which enabled me to show him more compassion and develop more patience. For those super seniors who have mastered the use of email or the Internet, I say BRAVO! I dread the day when my fingers no longer work right and my eyes can no longer read the screen and find the cursor--I just hope it's a long, long ways off!


Rene' Morris said...

I'm almost finished with your book. I started it last night so all of this is fresh in my mind. There HAS to be something out there for seniors. I mean, they've made those big phones for them to use.. Jitterbug. So they need a senior friendly computer.

Karen Zemek, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry" said...

Maybe by the time I get decrepped, something to help the old folks with problems like these will have been invented. I think there may be some voice activated ones already I believe.

Rene' Morris said...

I finished your book and posted a review.. I'm not really a reviewer but I loved the book. I'm glad you chose to share him with us.

Disturbed Stranger said...

Your dad sounds amazing.
I'm sure he's smiling down on you now.
Good luck with your book... very sincere words!

"My Funny Dad, Harry" Book Giveaway

Congratulations to all the winners of the giveaway for "My Funny Dad, Harry" at Red Pine Mountain. I am so happy that four of my regular commenters won! Read what Tim thought of it at Everyday Living.