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Wired: Studies show more senior citizens are using computers to stay in touch with family and friends.

June 28, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A year ago, retired Uniontown resident Tom Dolan didn't know he had a cousin living in Mesa, Ariz. But thanks to a computer his children gave him for his birthday, he is trading family war stories with her.

"To tell you the truth, I never thought about getting" a computer, said Dolan, 79, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and the father of four grown children, two of whom live out of state. "I was surprised at the number of my older friends who had computers."

Today, Dolan sends e-mail to family and friends across the country on a regular basis - one of his biggest e-mail pals is his daughter Zoah Barnes, who lives down the street.

"We send each other jokes all the time," he said.

Growing numbers of senior citizens are seeking out libraries, senior centers and agencies to learn about computers and access them. Many are drawn by the use of e-mail to keep in touch with scattered children, grandchildren, relatives and friends.

"The kids are all communicating by e-mail," said Helen Huenemeyer, 60, a retired bookkeeper who lives in Westminster and is a volunteer at Westminster Senior Center. "I just felt like I was being left behind."

Huenemeyer recently bought a computer to keep in touch with her daughter in North Carolina.

A recent online survey of 1,000 adults age 50 and older showed 93 percent used the Internet to keep in touch with family and friends, according to SeniorNet, a nonprofit organization that promotes computer literacy among older adults. Most of the respondents were between ages 60 and 65.

The survey also showed a majority of the respondents were on the computer 10 or more hours a week. Senior citizens ranked keeping in touch with friends and relatives at the computer's most important function. Research and keeping abreast of news were also noted as important.

William Giggard, 61, of Westminster is among the senior citizens using the computer as a communications tool. He uses the computer to keep in touch with far-away friends and relatives.

"I've had computers for about 15 years now," Giggard said. "I'm on the Internet a lot playing games. And I have about 10 to 15 people I communicate with on a regular basis. Being in a wheelchair, working on the computer is something I can do easily."

The demand for computer access and knowledge among senior citizens has become so great at Westminster Senior Center that officials are exploring ways to fund a computer lab, said Charlene Fischer, the center's program coordinator.

County library officials are finding high demand, too.

"I would say 20 percent of the people who are using the library computers are seniors," said Christina Kuntz, adult services supervisor at the Westminster library branch. "I've seen a lot less reluctance on the part of seniors. It cuts down on their long-distance phone calls."

Trying to keep up with the demand is Carroll Community College, which offers computer classes geared toward senior citizens.

"The college is having a hard time meeting the demand," said Marcia Reinhart, who teachers computer classes. "We have a limit of 10 students in each class. We have waiting lists."

Reinhart teaches two computer classes each week for seniors. One is "Introduction to Word Processing," and the other is "Introduction to the Internet."

"I have a lot of seniors [in the introduction class] who don't own a computer but want to learn how one works," she said. "One of the biggest things I hear is that they want to stay in touch with family and friends."

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