Computer classes are becoming a popular pastime at senior communities, including The Brentmoor. photo by Jason Mueller

Bingo!

    If that’s all you expect to hear from the retirement home activity room, you might be surprised. When residents of The Hallmark of Creve Coeur gather for one of the most popular pastimes, they’re more likely to be saying, How do I modify Outlook for my data spreadsheets? reports Bob Row, director of lifestyles and transportation at The Hallmark. “Different levels of computer instruction are available based on individual needs,” he explains. “Some people want to know where the ‘on’ button is, some aren’t sure how to operate the mouse, but they all enjoy the intellectual stimulation. They’ve had enough bingo!”

    Residents’ families benefit from the computer classes, as well, says Row. “You know, those out-of-town grandchildren probably don’t even know how to write a letter! If they can communicate with their grandparents through e-mail and Facebook, everybody’s happy,” he says. “We can modify the font size for those with low vision, or they can even hook up their own computers to a 52” television set, which turns it into a giant monitor.” Although many residents enjoy the computer, he explains, the technology can be overwhelming for those with significant cognitive impairments. “Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. We have residents who aren’t interested in the computer, but they really enjoy the Wii. They create avatars that look like themselves and they can go bowling without leaving their wheelchair. It’s fun and it’s good therapy, too.”

    Fun is at the heart of computer class at The Brentmoor, where instructor Don Veenstra promises his students a “failure-free and fun” experience. Veenstra, owner of The Brain Fitness Gym, emphasizes that the brain needs exercise, just like the body. “We can exercise different parts of the brain, like memory, language, mental flexibility and attention span,” he says. “.Routine is the enemy of the brain, and so many people who live in retirement homes tell me that the only decision they make some days is ‘chicken or fish.’ They love having an opportunity to challenge their mind and learn something new. I tell them, ‘If you know the answer, shout it out!’ We don’t care if we’re right or wrong in class, we just want to have some fun.”

    Judy Moore, marketing director at Friendship Village West, says that many residents learn computer skills just so they can use e-mail, but others become quite proficient and very enthusiastic, even volunteering to help with newsletters for their church or other community organizations. “We have a Monday morning coffee hour every week, and often the computer-savvy residents create a PowerPoint presentation about upcoming events,” Moore says. “Some people  like working in Photoshop, and they volunteer to take pictures of new residents and edit them for our newsletter. Another thing that’s very popular is Family Tree Maker, a genealogy software program that helps people research their ancestors.” For those who prefer more traditional recreation, Moore says, computer technology has expanded their horizons, as well.

     “We have several people here who are master bridge players, and with the computer, they can play bridge with people all over the world,” she notes. Card games also can be the attraction for those who are computer-resistant, she adds. “Sometime the first thing that gets their attention is solitaire.”