All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Shelia R Cotten

Advisory Committee Members

Jeffrey Clair

Michael Crowe

Kevin Eckert

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2014

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

USING COMPUTERS AND THE INTERNET: THE EXPERIENCES OF OLDER ADULTS IN ASSISTED LIVNG COMMUNIITIES VICKI P. WINSTEAD MEDICAL SOCIOLOGY ABSTRACT For this dissertation, I used a qualitative method to examine the experiences of older adults in assisted living who have learned to use the computer and the Internet. Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with residents who had completed either an eight-week or four-week training program that taught them the fundamentals of computer and Internet use, searching with Google, social media, and entertainment-based sites like Hulu and YouTube. Data for analysis included qualitative interviews, field notes and weekly updates from the training, and field notes post-interview. I utilized grounded theory guidelines in the coding process and in thematic development from the interviews. Findings indicate that residents express simultaneous feelings of gain and loss when moving into, and living in assisted living. Residents described loss as loss of independence and autonomy, as well as a loss of opportunity for expression of former identities. However, they acknowledged a simultaneous gain in needed care and assistance accompanied by perceptions of relief for themselves and for family members. Residents who had continued to use the computer and the Internet expressed a sense of virtual broadening/opening of their lives beyond their assisted living community. They used the computer for connecting with family and friends and reconnecting with people, groups, and places from their past. They described a virtual ability to express identity online apart from their environment that represents illness and decline. Physical and cognitive decline hindered further use by some of the residents. Although they had not continued usage, these residents perceived themselves as "smarter" and felt less removed from society because they had acquired technology knowledge. However, residents' lives are not embedded or structured within the technology. For them, it remains on the periphery as a phenomenon that enhances their life but is not central to life.

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