The Internet can be a blessing! It allows us to stay in frequent and personal touch with family and friends in a manner that’s virtually unprecedented in human history. Knowing how to navigate today’s Internet, a person can pay bills, find a well-recommended nearby restaurant, book travel arrangements and even find the love of our life without ever leaving our devices.
The Internet can be a curse! It allows our elders and others not very conversant with predators to be vulnerable to being taken advantage of, losing their financial security and having their privacy infringed upon.
Anne Marie Piper, who teaches at Northwestern’s School of Communication, offers 4 ways to make your efforts most successful when you’re a POP Family member supporting your aging loved ones to enjoy the benefits of “playing on the Internet:”
- Guide them: If your aging loved ones are somewhat cognitively impaired or new to the Internet, POParents can type words into a search engine, suggest ideas for things to explore, and/or operate a mouse for them. Even those seniors who were previously tech-savvy may need help re-learning today’s technology. The level of help your loved ones may need may be very different some days than it is others.
- Stimulate them:Being online alongside your aging loved ones affords POParents and younger members of POPcycle families the chance to participate in many forms of mental and emotional stimulation: memories; laughter; singing; photos from their life. You can interact with them via online brain games, news sites and social media. Having the Internet as a source of conversation can also alleviate the burden of “creating conversation” with our elders who may no longer be very chatty.
- Show them how to connect and re-connect:Helping your beloved seniors to connect with new ones and re-connect with old friends on Facebook, and other networking websites, can alleviate much of the loneliness that so often silently plagues them. In turn, these connections can often “fill in” by creating fun times when POP families can’t be around as a source of social life. However, recalling the blessing and the curse, navigating these websites can prove challenging in a number of ways. You may wish to discuss with them how much information to reveal about oneself online, to whom to reveal it, and whether or not to accept new or unsolicited “friends.”
- Protecting:POP family members who are tech-savvy should set up the necessary settings for blocking spam, phishing, other harmful websites, etc. They should also vigilantly watch for financial threats on a regular basis to their more vulnerable and less tech-savvy seniors.
If you’re the POParent seeking to support your aging relatives in this venture, you may encounter a few challenges of your own:
- Your cognitively impaired loved ones, or just those with normally aging brains, may not remember what you’ve taught. Shifts in memory and ability may vary from day-to-day, sometimes even from moment-to-moment. Most seniors are “brightest” before sundown.
- Finding Internet content that is appropriate and provides the desirable stimulation to your particular loved ones.
- Your folks may wish to see certain content repeatedly. Remember how much your youngsters liked seeing their favorite videos over and over and over?
- Managing the irritation and upset of your aging loved ones if they recognize their memory limitations and don’t want to try anymore and/or if they have issues resulting in difficulty hearing or understanding the content from the Internet. (A “boom box” attached to the computer may help everyone’s mood…)
- Determining when/whether your beloved seniors and/or their employed caregivers be given access to credit card information for purchases online. Those caring for seniors with cognitive limitations need to find a balance here as in so many arenas — between supporting as much online autonomy as possible — while still being protective. Some families have “solved” this challenge by setting up dedicated “POP Family accounts” with very limited lines of credit that also need second-party approvals.
If you like what you’ve read here and are interested in reading more, buy the book, “Oh My God! We’re Parenting Our Parents: How To Transform This Remarkable Challenge Into A Journey of Love.”