There is a lot of talk in my classes and coursework about lonely, isolated elders. We discuss how older, disabled individuals living in nursing homes, assisted living, or alone in the community have a hard time interacting with others. Not because they don’t want to but because they have little opportunity for interaction. Maybe they won’t see anyone for days at a time. Maybe they do, but their service provider won’t chat with them beyond pleasantries. Maybe family comes by occasionally or they see them on holidays.

In the years to come I envision an environment where these homes are filled with laptops, web cameras, and cell phones. There is no way the Baby Boomers are going to leave technology behind as they make their way through old age.  They will stay connected because they want to, they know how, and (as many of us have experienced) there is little going back once you’re technologically savvy. Nursing homes will most likely be a very different thing in the future and not nearly as isolating.

So, that leaves us with today’s elders. One of the biggest problems is not getting the technology to them. Companies like Best Buy take our old, broken computers off our hands. A part of me believes they wouldn’t mind donating them to nursing homes and low-income schools so those in need can stay connected. Pretty good PR right? No, the larger issue is probably instruction. How do you teach mass numbers of older people all that they can do with a computer?

I am not talking about teaching them what a mouse is and how to type a letter in Word. I want them to know how they can stay connected to family through email, instant messaging, and Skype. How they can research anything and everything on Wikipedia, learn a language for free on Livemocha, and laugh at the younger generations on YouTube. How they can participate in forums related to their interests or start a blog to share their thoughts with the world. How they can stay connected to the outside and don’t have to feel alone during the last years of their life.

It is not something that can be changed over night but I do think we should start talking about how what the rest of us think of as a normal part of our daily lives may be the answer for older, disabled, isolated adults. We should be trying to empower them to stay connected to the world, we have the technology! Imagine if they did not have to rely on visits from busy family and friends to relieve their loneliness.  They take control of their situation and socialize as much or as little as they want to, so that when family final does come by you may hear them say, “Oh, can you wait a minute? I just need to finish up my conversations,” as you watch them close 4 IM windows saying goodbye to their international friends.