Dickinson Seniors Keep Close to Loved Ones Using E-Mail

"Dickinson Seniors Keep Close to Loved Ones Using E-Mail." Forum, 15 December 1996, Sec. 1C.

The World Wide Web has made the world a little smaller for Maggie Schmidt, who lives at St. Benedict's Health Center in Dickinson. Schmidt corresponds by e-mail with her sister, Toots.
With the click of a computer mouse and a little help from a friend, 76-year-old Maggie Schmidt corresponds at least once a week with her younger sister in Lake Tahoe, Nv.

Toots, her only remaining family member, writes once or twice a week to Maggie, who lives at St. Benedict's Health Center in Dickinson.

"When I get a letter, I'm excited," Maggie said, smiling broadly from her wheelchair in the bright facility.

The sisters formerly corresponded through handwritten letters, but Maggie says her writing was too small and difficult for her sister to read. And she often had long waits between letters. Now, she dictates letters to nurses or others versed in computers and watches while they type and instantly send her letter.

One of 15 residents using St. Benedict's new computer and e-mail, Maggie says she was a little afraid, at first, of the computer. Now she's comfortable with it and says the computer screen and larger print makes her sister's letters easier to read.

In August, the nursing home set up a new, donated computer, laser printer and e-mail account for residents. Its popularity is growing.

"We wanted our residents to experience what we all are experiencing now," said activity director Bonnie Goldsberry. "They remain connected to life outside the facility. ... They'd try it at home, and this is their home."

St. Benedict's administrator, Jon Frantsvog, says that while nursing homes across the country are updating their technology, there often isn't extra money for Internet and other computer amenities for residents.

"I believe this is going to be an emerging trend," he said. "It's unique; I've not seen any discussion about it in my professional journals. ... Pennies of electricity each month is all it costs me."

That buys a lot of interaction between residents and staff, and brings more fun, Goldsberry said.

"You see much more laughing, and they feel proud to be sitting there with someone," she said. "It's new and exciting and they're willing to learn and try."

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota.

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