A recent study by the Phoenix Center looked at adults 55 and over, but not employed or in nursing homes, and found that Internet use decreased their level of depression by 20%. I'm not at all surprised by this, and I believe a similar decrease in depression levels would be observed in nursing home residents as well.
While residents are living together rather than isolated in their own homes, and therefore have more opportunities for socialization, there are still many people who don't partake of the recreational activities offered for their enjoyment. Some residents never leave their rooms due to physical or psychological barriers, and some don't like crowds. Other residents feel uncomfortable socializing because of the physical changes of illness, wish to pursue activities other than those available in the nursing home, or miss connecting with those outside the home. The Internet offers the opportunity for nursing home residents to transcend their physical illnesses, leave the boundaries of the facility, and connect with the world.
Here are ways in which I use the Internet for therapeutic purposes:
1. Psychoeducation regarding illness
Oftentimes residents are given diagnoses, but little information about them, leaving them confused or upset, which can result in noncompliance with medication and care. I search for a resident’s illness with them on the computer, and discuss the symptoms and treatment, which enhances cooperation with medical staff. Some residents are more receptive to information coming from a “neutral” source than from their own caregivers, and most residents appreciate a print-out of information they can refer to over time. Posting a list of illnesses and the Web addresses of important sites near the computer would facilitate this process (eg; The American Diabetes Association, the Amputee Coalition of America, etc).
2. Support regarding illness
Most of the residents deal with their illnesses in isolation, when there are many avenues of support available to them on the Internet. Having the opportunity to “discuss” their concerns anonymously with peers can often be more effective than trying to generate a conversation between two or more residents at the nursing home, due to discomfort at revealing personal information. At www.strokenetwork.org, for example, stroke survivors can “meet” other survivors on-line and get information and emotional support, as can their caregivers. To find the appropriate support groups, enter the name of a particular illness and “support” into the browser window and look around from there. Another option: Look for a Yahoo group about the illness and sign up the resident after establishing a free email account through resources such as Yahoo or Google.
3. Connection with family and friends