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Better health through computers

Computer literacy: Tina Waring, of Sentara Healthcare, is providing monthly, one-hour, one-on-one, free computer literacy classes for senior citizens. The next is Oct. 7 at the Churchland PACE center.

Sentara program helps seniors learn to use technology

Sylvia Wagner has an 87-year-old uncle in New York, an 85-year-old uncle in Maryland and an aunt in Denver.

Two have cancer and one is bedridden, and they haven’t seen each other in 50 years because of the distances involved.

After taking a computer literacy course through Sentara Healthcare, Wagner understands that if her aunt and uncles knew how to use a computer, things might be different for them.

“If they had a computer and knew how to use it they could sit and talk with each other,” Wagner said. “I don’t know how to do it, but someone told me there’s something you can hook up to your computer so you can see each other. I didn’t know you could do that. They haven’t seen each other in more than 50 years. If they knew how to do that, it could help them.”

Jobs, recipes, school grades, maps, shopping, communication with loved ones and health information are just a click away for a computer user accessing the Internet.

With the sudden advancements of technology, however, there are some members of the community who have been left behind.

To help senior citizens like Wagner and her uncles and aunt access the Internet and learn other computer skills, Tina Waring of Sentara Healthcare Systems began teaching monthly computer literacy courses at Sentara’s facilities.

“There is a wealth of information out there that they don’t know how to access,” Waring said. “As a healthcare professional, it’s my priority to improve health, and a primary way to do that is through getting information to folks.”

Since beginning the program in February, Waring has met with more than 100 senior citizens one-on-one and free of charge.

The next classes will be held at Churchland’s PACE center on Oct. 7.

“Everyone has different levels of ability and comfort on the computer,” Waring said. “For example, I taught one man, who has been using computers for years, how to use (the program) Excel because he needed to know it for his job. Others don’t know how to use a mouse.”

Waring has helped people set up free e-mail accounts, discover eBay, find their daily newspaper online and use Google and the Sentara website for health care access.

She also equips seniors with the knowledge of where to access free computers, free Internet access and tips on buying a new computer.

In the future, she hopes to put together a “field trip” to take a group of interested seniors to a local retailer to buy a computer that will suit their needs.

“Buying and using computers can be very intimidating, if you don’t know where to start,” Waring said.

For Wagner, she was scared away from the technology after her identity was stolen, but working with Waring has helped her better use computer resources to her advantage.

“I’m still a little paranoid when it comes to the Internet,” Wagner said. “I know I’m not that computer savvy and have to be careful with what I do, but I have found so many uses for the Internet.”

She uses it for recipes and to look up natural remedies for health ailments.

Waring even taught her how to use it to look up her ancestry.

“I have a computer, but there were things I couldn’t access,” Wagner said. “She was so sweet and patient with me. She taught me how to access some of the things. She explained things to me so they weren’t over my head. We need more things like this in the community.”

For more information or to sign up for a class, call Waring at 892-5425.