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.