Online chatting can play help older people connect and reduce loneliness….but they need to stay safe.
Online chat rooms are not just the province of the young, and there’s a massive role they can play to help older people (especially those who cannot get out and about as much as they would like) to connect to the outside world.
“If anything, chat rooms are even more appropriate for older people than younger ones,” says the website’s MD Deborah Stone. “Older people will probably have more time on their hands and have less chance to meet up with friends.
They are a fantastic place to make new friends, explore interests and hobbies and keep mentally as well as socially active. A great many older people are confined to their homes, or not keen to go out after dark, which can really restrict their activities.
So if they can be helped to use chat rooms safely, they are ideal …and that’s where younger members of the family can really help, by providing encouragement or tuition.”
So how do chat rooms work?
Says Deborah: “The first obvious requirement is a lap top or computer plus a broadband connection, and again families can play a role by organising this for their older relative if they aren’t confident about what to order.The user also needs to know that the “speaking” is usually done by typing your responses rather than actually talking to someone and they type back, so you can read their replies.
“Sometimes, you can speak to one person and sometimes to a number of people at the same time. It’s not a forum, where you leave messages and someone replies at a later time. Chat rooms run in real time, just like real conversations, which is much more engaging. After that it’s a series of simple steps, which are:
- You will usually be required to register and create a nickname to use when you are chatting (this doesn’t have to be your real name) and you will usually be asked to provide a password. You will need both of these whenever you log in again to chat. If you forget your details, you can always ask for a nickname or password reminder, which will be sent to your email address. You will need a working email address in order to register.
- Once you’ve registered, you will normally see a box, where you can see what other people are chatting about. If you wish to join in, you can type something and hit the send button so others can see it and comment. If you are nervous about participating to start with, just watch and read the conversations until you are ready to join in.
- Remember, you are expected to be polite in the chat room and not to use bad language. Avoid using words in capitals, as it is considered the text equivalent of shouting! If you want to make a point to a particular person in the conversation, just mention their name when you reply. Don’t say anything to anyone in a chat room which you would not say in person.
Staying safe and secure
“Being concerned about online safety and security is only natural,” says Deborah, “especially as there have been many reports of scams. But there should be no problems as long as you remember the three big ‘no-nos’ of the chat room.”
- Not everyone is who they say they are. Never meet someone from a chat room without someone else with you and even then, let a third party know where you are. Do not meet in your own home.
- Never give out any personal details, such as your address, telephone number or any financial details.
- Never be persuaded to give someone else money or gifts.
“Chat rooms can be a great way for older people to make new friends and avoid loneliness,” says Deborah, “but do follow these simple rules to make sure you have a pleasant and safe experience.”
Read more about chat rooms for older people HERE