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Using the Internet to Your Advantage – In Your Facility

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Using the Internet to Your Advantage – In Your Facility

While most of us use the internet in our personal lives, it doesn’t always occur to us to share it with people outside the home. For long-term care residents, the facility is their home, but how many enjoy the same internet access we all take for granted? Does your facility have internet-connected computers available for the residents, or high speed internet connections in resident rooms? If not, you’re missing out. The internet can be a great source of entertainment, learning, and human interaction. Wait – human interaction? Yep. Read on!

Generally speaking, older residents are less likely to be computer literate than facility staff or volunteers. The adage “if you don’t know how to use electronics, ask a teenager” is popular because it’s true, and pairing teenagers with residents can bring a lot of life and vitality into your facility. Many high schools encage their students to volunteer, sometimes offering school credit for volunteer hours. For our purposes, though, any computer literate, patient volunteers will do. Got your volunteers? Great! Here are some ideas for how volunteers can help residents enjoy all the fun and entertainment the internet holds.

Email and Communication
To the mobile phone generation, email can seem pretty dated, but it’s still one of the fastest, best ways people have to stay in touch with others. Everyone loves to receive mail–whether it’s a paper letter or an email note–and helping residents access email is a simple but rewarding task. If a resident has limited mobility, a volunteer can take dictation and type letters. For visually impaired residents, a volunteer reader can be a big help.

A common problem for residents is that their family members live too far away to visit frequently. Various internet services can help bridge the gap between visits. At the most basic level, email is a great way for residents to stay in touch with relatives, and to exchange pictures and web links. If you have a headset with microphone available, residents can also use Skype to make video or audio phone calls. It’s free to contact other Skype users, and less expensive than traditional long distance service to contact users outside of Skype. Even sites like Google now allow video chat for free. You just need a web camera, speakers, and a microphone (or an inexpensive all-in-one headset). There’s nothing quite like chatting with long distance friends or family to put a smile on a resident’s face.

Fun and entertainment
Many seniors enjoy doing research on their ancestors and the internet has several resources for genealogy research. This is also a great activity to share with volunteers. Ancestry.com is one of the most popular genealogy sites. It requires subscription fees, but offers a 2-week free trial to new members.

Google Maps Street View

Another fun activity is to take a virtual vacation by browsing photos online. Photo sharing sites like flickr.com and photobucket.com make it very easy to search for images by location. Take a tour of sun-soaked Greece, or help a resident take a stroll down main street in his or her home town. Google earth and google street view images give you the perspective of walking or driving down a street, and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t get excited about zooming in on their home or residential facility on a satellite map.

We can’t forget the internet’s most popular options: movies and games. Most of the major TV networks allow you to stream recent shows on their web sites. This is a great way for residents to keep up with their favorite shows without having to stick to a viewing schedule. hulu.com is a great place to find the last three or four episodes of current series, and full runs of older shows. For movies, Netflix is the best deal. DVDs can be delivered directly to residents through the mail, and there is no need to run down to the local kiosk or rental store. Also, Netflix has a huge collection of movies and TV series available for instant viewing online. You’ll need to pay for a monthly subscription to access Netflix’s services (after a free trial), but the fees are modest and there are no contracts. A subscription could make a great gift for a nursing home resident.

When it comes to games, there are hundreds of game web sites and many are free. Unfortunately, many of the free sites are supported by advertising, so the pages can be flashy and annoying. Certainly not a fun experience when all you want to do is play some solitaire. Even worse, some of these game sites prey upon their visitors by packing the games with spyware and privacy- invading tracking programs. Please be cautious when looking for games, and do not download anything from a site you’re not familiar with, or a name you do not trust.

Luckily, more sites are realizing that older players don’t want all the bells and whistles, and are developing games that will appeal to this demographic. AARP is a good starting point to find user-friendly games on a trusted web site. All the favorites–sudoku, solitaire, mah jong–are here: http://games.aarp.org/

No matter what you choose, the more you get volunteers or family visitors involved, the more personal interaction your residents will have, and that’s good for everyone.

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