Age of technology

Senior citizens embrace computers, Internet

When Perry Van Dorn was writing a book 20 years ago, he became frustrated with his portable typewriter.

So Van Dorn went to Jackson's Office Supply in search of an upgrade and a salesman suggested a computer. Van Dorn didn't even know what a computer was.

Now, at age 90, Van Dorn is a pro at e-mailing friends and family, searching for genealogy records and scanning glass plate negatives his mother shot 100 years ago.

He spends one to two hours a day on his computer. His latest project was a calendar with all the birthdays and anniversaries of his family members.

"I get kind of a kick out of it if I've got some purpose for doing it," he said.

Michael Lausin, owner of Solutions Oriented Systems computer shop, said Van Dorn is one of many senior citizens who have embraced today's technological age.

Lausin teaches a computer class at Colorado Northwestern Community College, and had three seniors enroll last semester.

"The biggest problem with older people is sometimes they're not too adaptable to change," Lausin said. "If they're open-minded enough to new things, picking up the Internet and things like that are pretty easy. You're never too old to learn something new."

Donna Watkins, director of Moffat County Libraries, agrees. Watkins began a course at the Craig branch when she saw the need for seniors to have computer skills.

Seniors learned to send e-mails, browse Web sites intended for seniors and use word processing programs.

"It was wonderful," Watkins said. "We had a lot of success."

Friends Margaret Thompson, 82, and Verniece Self, 86, said they use the Internet to suit their needs, but don't have much in-depth knowledge of how everything works.

They have fun playing games and receiving e-mails with photos of their great-grandchildren.

"Mostly I use mine for correspondence with friends and family," Thompson said. "I don't turn it on until 9 or 10 o'clock at night. Otherwise, I'd play games all day."

Self said her computer is a source of entertainment, but she also uses the Internet to check on her stock market shares and uses the program Quicken to keep track of her bank accounts.

Thompson said she tried to learn about Medicare drug programs online, but didn't understand the information on the Web site. She said she still prefers talking to a live person on the phone.

Self and Thompson said they both got computers because at the urging of their children. Van Dorn said he gets some tech help from his son.

"My son, who is a computer expert, told me, 'Dad, don't be afraid of (the computer). You can't hurt it,'" Van Dorn said. "It took me a while to get comfortable with it, and even now I get a little aggravated with it."

Even after some frustration, Thompson said she thinks her computer time is beneficial.

"I think it keeps our brains alive, active," Thompson said.

A longitudinal research study released in August by Village Care of New York say computer use can be beneficial to seniors. The researchers say that seniors who are technologically connected display fewer depressive symptoms.

Lausin has some suggestions for seniors who want to learn about computers.

"Be open-minded and flexible enough to learn new things," he said. "Don't overwhelm yourself, take small steps and it doesn't hurt to ask for help."

Van Dorn said he thinks senior citizens should take advantage of technology.

"It's here. It's going to be here," he said. "You might as well make some use of it."

Classes at the college begin Monday. For information, call 824-5427.

Library courses will start again in February. For information, call 824-5116.

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