Canadian silver foxes are significant online demographic

Canadian silver foxes are significant online demographic

November 28, 2009.

The Toronto Star carried an interesting article on the growing numbers of senior citizens finding their way onto the Internet despite having lived much of their lives pre-Internet.

The newspaper reports that using computers can help push back two chronic conditions of old age - depression and isolation, and increasing numbers of curious seniors in the 60 to 80 age bracket are mastering the mouse to get online and access information and entertainment.

The Toronto Star article notes that between the years 2000 and 2003, the share of people aged 65 to 74 going online more than doubled, from 11 to 28 percent, according to Statistics Canada numbers.

The newspaper quotes computer scientist Ronald Baecker, who claims that within a year or so, half of North American seniors are expected to be surfing the Web, making them the fastest-growing demographic using the technology.

"Elderly people are beginning to understand that not knowing how to use a computer is like living in a country where you don't understand the language," Keith Cleaver (63) told the writer of the article. He and his wife Beverley have been teachimg seniors basic computer skills at Harmony Hall Centre for Seniors.

"I feel even I'm falling behind now," says the former computer programmer. "I should be on Facebook and Twitter."

Baecker, a University of Toronto computer sciences professor, says that many seniors believe still unproved claims that computer gaming keeps the brain sharp, and that he therefore expects computer "brain games" to turn more seniors onto gaming. The academic has assembled a 14-member research team called TAG - Technologies for Aging Gracefully - and plans to soon begin testing an online poker game that would allow seniors to chat and strategise with a partner online.

"He hopes to team up with Ryerson University's popular LIFE program, which offers computer courses to older people, to research whether partnering at online poker stimulates the brain more than the solitary card and poker games that most seniors favour," the newspaper reports.

One cash-strapped care home unable to afford computer hookups apparoached an Internet provider for help and was further motivated to go right to the top after a technician asked why old people needed computers - they had more success with the CEO and for the past 13 years the seniors at the care centre have benefited, learning the new skill and then accessing news, low cost telephone calls, webcasts and emails.

The article ends on a poignant note with the story of a woman in her late eighties who had not seen her son in Israel for years; thanks to Skype and the patience and charity of a local IT expert, she was able to re-connect with him. The expert recalls being deeply moved as he watched the senior caress the screen carrying her son's image.

"Tears were rolling down her face. I had tears myself," he told The Toronto Star "I was just blown away by what technology could do to bring families together."