The quality of a person's golden years is greatly influenced by many factors, including their health, hobbies and other interests, level of activity, and social network — family members and friends with whom they stay in contact. Despite the challenges of aging, all of these factors are very much under the individual's control, and especially so if he or she takes advantage of the resources available on the Internet.
Every study done of Internet usage demonstrates that more seniors are getting online with every passing year, and becoming more comfortable with using websites for managing their affairs and researching information. At the same time, a growing number of businesses, volunteer groups, government agencies, and other organizations are catering to the needs of the over-55 crowd, who are voicing their interest in using the Internet to maximize their independence, and to experience the same Web access enjoyed by their children and grandchildren.
I will consider some of the more promising of the countless websites devoted to senior issues, such as keeping healthy, making new friends, getting understandable answers to tax questions, traveling domestically and internationally, using assistive technologies, and staying active after retirement by getting involved in community groups.
In the course of examining these websites and discovering what they have to offer, it becomes increasingly clear that the attitudes of seniors towards the use of technology in general — and the Internet in particular — are changing dramatically. Partly as a result of this, the attitudes of non-seniors towards the websites and services that they offer to seniors, and the accessibility of those websites, are changing even more dramatically.
All Things to All Seniors
While some of the websites that I will examine specialize in one or just a few categories, some of the most popular senior-focused websites attempt to be all-inclusive, with wide-ranging coverage of entertainment, financial, health, home, leisure, sports, and travel topics. This tends to work quite well when the website in question has a substantial amount of information, or, in the case of websites largely comprising forums and discussion groups, has enough participation from a sufficient number of people to make it worthwhile.
One popular website is SeniorWorld Online, which offers "Resources for Active Seniors in the Digital Age", organized into eight categories: Your Health; Home & Garden; Your Money; Life, Leisure & Sports; Real Estate; Travel & Recreation; News & Opinion; Arts & Entertainment. Within each of the categories, there are subcategories, within which one will find a number of articles. For example, the Your Money category is divided into Financial Planning, Social Security, Insurance, Taxes, On the Job, and The Wise Consumer.
SeniorWorld's home page also has featured articles, an online survey, and a way to sign up for their free email newsletter. In addition — as a nice touch not seen on enough websites — they list features that they plan to introduce in the future, including a directory of some sort, a calendar, classified ads, forums, and more.
SeniorNet is more oriented to education, membership, and discussions. Founded in 1986, SeniorNet bills itself as "the nation's leading and most respected provider of access to and education on computer technologies and Internet for adults age 50+." Paid membership entitles one to an email account, a monthly newsletter, access to their hundreds of discussion groups, and online courses in the areas of computer usage and personal enrichment, such as learning a foreign language.
Members can also take courses at the nearly 200 Computer Learning Centers, where computer courses are taught by other seniors, on a volunteer basis. The courses range from basic to intermediate levels, with members able to start out with gentle introductions to computers, the Internet, and email. From there they can learn more about cyber security and individual applications.
Friendly4Seniors is an online database with more than 2000 listings of online resources, all of which have apparently been reviewed by their staff and confirmed as truly senior-related. The website's listings are grouped into 11 categories, ranging from Associations/Organizations to Recreation/Leisure. Within each one, there are multiple subcategories, within which one will find many listings. Staying with our earlier example of finance, the Financial subsection features 73 listings.
Speaking of finance, a large portion of the website's links are related to saving money, finding insurance, and dealing with the high expenses of senior housing and assisted living. However, there is information on lighter subjects, including books, magazines, chat groups, camping, leisure, and travel topics.
Another portal-style website that has selected links, is Yahoo Seniors. It boasts 24 categories — from Age Discrimination to Web Directories — among which one will find a variety of topics, with the most substantial categories being Organizations, Web Directories, Magazines, and Computers and Internet.
However, in typical Yahoo style, the website has its weaknesses, aside from looking just as dated and dull as most Yahoo websites. In terms of the chosen categories, some obvious ones are missing, such as finance, home, and leisure. Also, one of the categories, "Crones", certainly could have been named with greater respect and sensitivity. Within the more promising categories, they don't have articles and other original material, but instead links to better websites.
Earlier it was noted that businesses of all stripes are slowly but surely changing their attitudes about making their websites accessible and valuable to elderly visitors. At the same time, society is finally gaining a more mature attitude about friendship and sexuality enjoyed by "silver foxes". In step with this, seniors will find that the Internet offers a plethora of online communities for meeting like-minded people living in their areas or living on the other side of the planet.
Friend Mingle Senior Friends may have a strange name, but it aims to help strangers from all over the world mingle online, and possibly become friends, or more. Membership is free, and allows one to create a profile, comprising one's name, age, location, purpose, hobbies, profession, primary language, and self-description. One can also include an optional photo, though it appears most members have chosen not to.
While Friend Mingle Senior Friends is geared toward online pen pals and forming friendships, other websites cater more to dating and romance. MaturePhotoDates.com is an example of this.
Regardless of one's interests, there are an increasing number of online resources that can help anyone make their later years more golden, either with their lifelong spouse or a new friend recently met in a chat room.