Monday, July 18, 2011

How To Teach Facebook to an Eighty-Five Year Old

I got off the phone yesterday with my 85-year old mother following her fifth Facebook training exercise. Only now can I say I feel she might find this interesting after all.

The need for my mother to get on Facebook came from a clear realization of the suffocating effects of being homebound following a fractured ankle. (I wrote about this some time ago.) I was not sure how this would go. But thanks to the tireless efforts of her care team (including my sister and brother), after 9 months she can now bear "20%" weight on her ankle. Sadly, this still means she remains homebound more often than not and is stuck watching the mind-numbing boob-tube in a geri-chair for way too many hours. She found the monotony discouraging and so many others in a similar circumstance, she grew depressed and despondent regarding her condition. And having some of her kids over 1000 miles away didn't help things.

So, in a burst of social media enthusiasm, I had an idea: maybe Facebook could offer her a chance to see the outside world and to re-connect with her long lost friends and family. Easy enough, right?


Getting someone who's depressed, concerned and cautious about their health to ambulate to, turn on, and "engage" with a computer for any length of time is not easy. For those of us relative youngsters, this is a snap. But for the older generation: if you want to succeed having them use this medium, I've found you have to stick to it. Here's some of the obstacles I encountered:

Physical and Cognitive Challenges

For many elderly, computers are uncomfortable distractions that require fine motor skills that should be used elsewhere. Simple things like getting to the darn thing, sitting, then moving a mouse, clicking, typing are challenging enough. Add the difficulties seeing the screen to the mix and it really gets interesting. Next, asking a computer Luddite to type a URL in the address line of Internet Explorer to go to Facebook? Patience becomes your middle word.

But if you persevere and carefully guide them across these hurdles, another hurdle quickly arrives: "What was my password again?" Cognition moves slower at eighty-five. So make sure they have a note pad and pen nearby to jot a few "reminders" down. Also, if you want to have any chance at all at teaching someone how to use Facebook from a thousand miles away via phone, use the "speaker" function on the phone to communicate: they simply can't type on a keyboard and talk to you on the phone at the same time any other way.


Despite lots of effort to cross these physical and cognitive hurdles, I still found my mother never made it back to the computer after our first session. The hurdles proved too challenging for her to adopt Facebook after one try. Too little reward for too much effort, I guess. But the doctor in me just wouldn't give up, so we tried something different: we set up "Facebook tutorial sessions." I called her to arrange a time to sit before the computer and then called her to walk her through the process again. And again. And again. And again. Each time, a few more Betz cells were activated. Things that took two hours before, took 1 hour the next time, then thirty minutes, then fifteen. Slowly, it seemed, the burden and anxiety over the computer was lifting.

Get a Computer/Facebook Buddy

The other great realization was that having someone at their side helps them gain confidence, too. My sister played a pivotal role with my mother in this respect. She helped reinforce what she was doing and helped speed the tutorials along considerably. Bottom line: the medical philosophy of "see one, do one" proves equally effective when using Facebook, too.

So we'll see. I still haven't received a spontaneous message from my mother yet, but we'll keep trying. At least it gives her a chance to see and do something different. And, who knows?

Maybe she'll soon become an internet junkie, too.



rlbates said...

If she wants someone to play scrabble with on FB, I'm in. :)

Jen Anderson said...

Oh my gosh just what I said all along for my mother while she sat in hospital and as a retired RN herself she wanted to whip those young nurses and DRS into shape - she was letting themabd me know she was not happy with her care - so I concluded she needed a distraction she wanted to research and wanted to show us what was wrong etc via laptop cell phone etc. I taught her over free long distance telephone while at work or home how to use the computer she had bought from future shop - it was tricky trying to describe buttons to her but you know she was so amazing so ready to try more even orderd computer magazines corrected me on somethings. It is her life line and connection to seeing hearing us and us to her. She at one point was showing other old folks a computer is as easy as 1-2-3 as she said to me. I think more seniors should have this opportunity like it or not it's the companion many bave needed for years - it for some can enhance the quality of life for years to come - yes I'd love to help other seniors with a computer someone doesn't need -,in the near future hope it is possible. I'll never forget seeing mom for the first time in years via her web cam - a real touching experience of wanting to reach through there and give her a big hug for her amazing efforts - so proud of her I am and her birthday 1929 July 23 I hope to be with her getting a new laptop and giving her cell phone. A hot red Blackberry Torch - she's very excited for that! Just hope I can get there with the dogs and the heat it might be tricky : ) p.s. all the times she called when she was stuck on the computer all the times she called me at work in the ER I cherish them as good memories and hope more of the same to come with the new laptop she will be learning new things with ....she loves the idea of security monitoring people in her room with her laptop webcam incentives go learn more are a must : )

Anonymous said...

Good for you, even if your mom just follows your family posts she will feel more connected, and you know mom, eventually they HAVE to comment :)


Anonymous said...

I got my 79 year old mother an iPad - and she loves it. We do FaceTime every day, which is so much better than just a phone call. I convinced her to get the iPad instead of a computer for the very same reasons you mentioned in your article - having to move to the computer (iPad is portable) - having to log on and type a url address every time. With the iPad she just has to hit the "mail" icon and she has her email - hit the "f" icon for Facebook and she is on and can see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren's posts and more importantly see pictures! I told her there is no way to screw up an iPad, so I think it is more elderly friendly than a computer.

DrWes said...

Anony 09:39 -

Great tip. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to the comments shared by Anon...I did the same with an elderly in-law - got the newest iPad with the camera. I typed up a cheat sheet of user tips in 36 bold font, laminated it and put it on the inside of the iPad case. Now my father-in-law can FB, Skype and see all the newest family photos. It has been absolutely liberating for him! He's now convinced he can handle Scrabble and Monopoly...we'll see about that adventure.

Solitary Diner said...

Do you want to teach my 60-year-old mother how to use Facebook too? My patience has proven to be too short to be successful with her (for many of the reasons you so accurately described in the post).