Clark and Silva M. Straka,
McGill Centre for the Studies in Aging
||CONNECTIONS: Internet Access for Frail Older Seniors
to Improve their Psychosocial Well-being.
Frail older seniors,
whether they live at home or in a residence, are at risk of being
marginalized and socially excluded. Providing them with Internet
access could help narrow the gap between these frail seniors and
society, thereby enhancing their self-esteem and reducing their
social isolation. In addition a computer programme could promote
mental health by providing mental stimulation and the opportunity
to learn new information and skills.
Frail seniors at five
Montreal institutions (three day centres and two residences) were
given the opportunity to use computers and the Internet on a regular
basis. This project, initiated and coordinated by the McGill Centre
for Studies in Aging, was funded by Canada's Office of Learning
The goal of the study
was to demonstrate the value of providing frail seniors with Internet
access. Four research topics were explored in order to help other
sites implement similar programmes and to provide a rationale for
- To examine the
feasibility of providing the necessary resources, both human
- To see what kinds
of people participate.
- To determine how
much and for what purpose participants use the computer.
- To examine what
psychosocial benefits are experienced by the participants.
The study had a quasi-experimental
design. Participants were interviewed before the beginning of
the project and six months after they started. The SF-12® Health
Survey was also administered on a pre-test and post-test basis.
Other data collected included computer usage logs, questionnaires
for volunteers and teachers and a focus group for the site-coordinators.
The teaching programme
began with nine weeks of teaching by an experienced teacher. Following
this, participants were helped by volunteers for the remainder
of the six months. A computer manual was provided to each participant.
(26 males and 58 females) with a mean age of 85.5 took part in
the study. Day centre participants were five years younger, but
had lower physical health scores than participants at residences.
Participants came from a variety of ethno-cultural backgrounds
and life experiences. Most participants had some level of physical
disability, especially in terms of vision, hand mobility and general
mobility. Educational levels varied, from several who had grade
3 education to those with graduate degrees.
used a variety of programmes, the most popular was e-mail, as reported
by over three-quarters of the people interviewed. Apart from e-mail,
computer usage depended on the participants' interests and ranged
from surfing the Internet to using Word for a variety of personal
projects to playing games.
experienced a variety of self-reported benefits. One of the most
important was that after receiving some computer instruction,
they reported that they now felt part of society again. Another
key benefit was the strengthening of their social networks by
e-mail. Other major benefits included a sense of mastery and achievement,
the pleasure of gaining new knowledge and just learning how computers
work. For many, it provided much needed mental stimulation and
challenge, while for others, it was a way to fill a void in their
lives. Almost all the participants reported multiple benefits
in these categories.
Of the original cohort
81% completed the nine-week course, and after six months 53% were
still planning to continue computer activities. The only predictive
variable for persistence was that of e-mail usage. Almost all
those who reported a lot of e-mail use, and almost three-quarters
of those who reported a little e-mail use were still in the programme
after 6 months.
was successful in different settings with a wide variety of individuals.
The outcomes show that it is well worth the effort of implementing
and maintaining such a programme in terms of the benefits it provides
to the participants, as well as to the institutions, the teachers
and the volunteers.
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