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He's got the whole wide world at his fingertips by Brian McNaughton

Conception was easy. A germ of an idea from me, a wink and a nod from Liz Chesterman and bingo. We were in business.

I felt my heart had over ridden my ability to produce an article to truly express my experiences coming to grips with the computer as Liz had requested. Perhaps it was a little unwise to have started out along this path.

How often have we heard that said? I have felt a little sick at the prospect, I have rushed around looking for information and tried to tidy my disorganised thoughts in preparation for delivery, I have hoped it would all go away and that I need not worry at all. Time was on my side. It can wait. But as the waters burst from the heavens in a heavy downpour, drumming on the tin roof, I knew my time had come.

'What on earth are we going to do with the Old Man?' Jean and Kate knew I would go mad inside all day in the wet weather. Sunny days were fine. Just give him a hoe and his trolley and leave him out in the garden. He will be happy for hours. And they were quite right. One thing I love just about more than anything is my garden and just being out there keeps me quite content. But wet days…Argh!

There is a limit to how many books you can read, especially if you have very little recall of what you have read. Also I found out the hard way that you keep out of the kitchen, you don't tidy the cupboards or make suggestions about why do we have five tins of baked beans when we only eat one at a time? Women are very territorial creatures and you crowd their space at your peril. At least you do in our place!

The girls made a decision. We'll get him a computer. He should have a computer, he needs a computer, and besides it will keep him content for hours doing what people do on computers. The fact that apart from me using a computer in my work in a very limited area, no one had the slightest idea of what people did on home computers. Computers must be great because so many people had them.

I did not want to be involved in the technology regardless of who had one. Just look at all the exercise equipment left unused in old sheds or under the bed. I said my womenfolk were very territorial. They are also very strong willed and, you guessed it, home came the computer, a printer, a scanner, metres of cords and strange looking plugs and to top it off, a large box of wood and screws to become my new computer desk. Oh the joy!. I had come of age.

Being 64 years old, and having some difficulty retaining any new concepts and learning due to my vascular dementia, was going to pose a problem. I was determined it would! So, if I was to be put through the hoops understanding and using my new computer, Jean was jolly well going to have to too! I could be strong willed as well.

We both enrolled with SeniorNet classes in 'Word Processing Level 1' which involved a two hour session a week for eight weeks. It is a hands on course run by oldies for oldies. No one is an expert. In this environment we both flourished and soon knew how to turn the thing on and off, lose pages, create errors confound the poor tutors and in general to have a great time. I worked it out that if I remembered ten minutes tuition out of each two-hour session, at the end of eight weeks I would have had the equivalent of 80 minutes solid learning. Enough to become an expert. Progress was indeed being made so we went back for Level 2 and Level 3 and as a result I am now able to operate my 'wet weather babysitter'. Good on Jean and Kate! Oh, did I tell you? They are usually right as well!

I investigated the programmes and found one called 'My Money'. This was a revelation on its own. Surely money is either Jean's or 'ours'. This was MY money and I embraced this concept with great zeal. I paid the bills, I kept track of the bank balances, I categorised the spending. It was now 'my money' and I was in control. Well sort of. I paid the Telecom account to Contact Energy and argued the case and made other small blunders, but hey, I was doing wonders.

Seriously though, this programme gave me a lot of confidence, not only in playing a fuller part in the family finances, but in proving to myself that I was still able to function on a level that required a certain cerebral dexterity A dexterity that I had allowed myself to believe was now diminished. I might be slow about it but I sure found that I could get to the finish in the end. I had begun to realise that if I took my time I could still function very well in this computer-technic realm.

Now comes a breakthrough. Apart from using e-mail to correspond with the family and quickly turning off sites on the world wide web that presented images I could not even comprehend, or so I led Jean to believe, I did not use or understand the vast resource the internet was or how it was about to change my understanding of the world and of myself and others.

It happened in Invercargill at a meeting of the local Alzheimer's Society Southland Inc. Jean and I were attracted to it by the speakers that were to be there. It was to be our first introduction to the Alzheimer's Society. I felt a little uncomfortable in a crowd of people I did not know. It is one of the drawbacks of my dementia. Anyway, Dr Verna Scholfield gave me an introduction to an International Society incorporating people with early stage dementias. They have a mailing list and also a 'chat site' Yes, be wary of chat sites, but this one is a group of most loving and supportive people. The DASN site and its members deserve an article on their own so I will leave further comment to another time.

Suffice to say, without my computer and my newly learnt skills, a huge area of learning and support would be denied both Jean and myself. And heaven knows that with this illness we both need all the support we can get. My breakthrough was that I at last had made contacts with people like myself who understood what having a dementing illness was all about. I had shared my experiences with another person, I had been accepted by them and they by me. A great loneliness had been lifted. I had access to medical information that I doubt (respectfully) most G.P's would have. My horizon was no longer the boundary road of a small country town. It had become global, challenging and exciting. My time on the computer, talking, writing, reading, searching, learning…..has built new pathways in my brain to compensate for the old ones that have become diseased. As Carole in Missouri U.S.A. so aptly puts it 'In some ways my computer has become my prosthetic brain'.

Mind you there is a down side. My computer has a nasty habit of stealing a lot of time I really can't afford to give it. I download my e-mail often to get up to 20 items and after reading the lot I realise I can't recall any of it so have to start all over again. The sun shines, the garden calls, so does Jean and Kate along with the dogs wanting more attention. What can a poor guy do? You're quite right. Leave everything, go and have another cup of coffee, get a quick reminder of why my urologist needs to see me again, and then quietly wander off, oblivious to all the pressing needs that prompted me to take a break in the first place. Ah well, sure fills in the day.

I would lose my sense of wonder if I didn't have my garden to wander through, to weed and plant and breath. I would lose my sense of connection if I did not have my computer to reach out to friends, to seek help and to give it back. It was a grand day indeed when we brought home the box of squeals, errors, crashes and wonderment.

Yes indeed, I have the whole wide world at my fingertips.

Brian McNaughton

My thanks to the DASN folk who have supported me these last weeks and who have given me the encouragement to write this article and share something of myself.