Fast backward to March 2020 and imagine my surprise as I saw every activity and program for older adults in communities, senior centers, and every other network that provided engaging programs get stopped in their tracks by Covid. Who would have known? Who could have even conceived that we would witness older adults (already in peril of social isolation) now, more alone and becoming more isolated than ever?
Dial back even farther to September 1, 2016. William Chopnik, PhD, published an almost clairvoyant scholarly article titled “The Benefits of Social Technology Use Among Older Adults Are Mediated by Reduced Loneliness”. He declared that technology, for social purposes, has the ability to enhance and enrich the lives of older adults by facilitating better interpersonal relationships. Social technology was also associated with:
– better self-rated health;
– fewer chronic illnesses;
– higher subjective well-being;
– fewer depressive symptoms;
– reduced loneliness.
His research also painted a bleak picture of older adults lacking the ability and motivation to adapt to the changing technological landscape. Many older adults felt anxious and intimidated by the thought of using new technologies. Nevertheless, he concluded that close relationships among older adults, a large determinant of physical health and well-being, is entirely possible to facilitate with technology.
In a 2017 study of older adults and their perceptions of learning new technology, researchers (Eleftheria Vaportzis, Maria Giatsi Clausen, and Alan J. Gow ) determined that the barriers to using digital devices and technology included:
– lack of instructions and guidance;
– lack of knowledge and confidence;
– health-related barriers;
– cost of internet;
– too much and too complex technology;
– feelings of inadequacy, and comparison with younger generations;
– skepticism about using tablets and technology in general.
However, technology is being thrust upon many more older adults than ever.
In a recent study commissioned by BT Skills for Tomorrow (polling conducted via OnePoll), 1,000 adults who have a relative aged over 70 were polled. More than half believed their loved one would wait for an appointment in person rather than trying an online alternative. Half also worry that their kin are reluctant to learn vital new digital skills – with three quarters suspecting they would see it as ‘too complicated’. A quarter think their loved ones see the internet as unsafe, while 29 percent said they don’t have anyone to teach them. But with restrictions on personal contact at the moment, 57 percent said their relative is missing face-to-face contact, and they worry they have become increasingly bored since the lockdown came into place.
The good news is that, almost half polled think their family members would be more open to improving their digital skills due to recent events – but don’t know where to start.
Results also showed that, due to the pandemic, more people are willing to try new things online and improve their digital skills. While the momentum is growing for older adults to acquire the technological skills to re-connect with their world, we need to be advocating for and helping source affordable devices and internet connectivity as well as systems to safely provision and support people in their homes. Let’s all “body on” to address these barriers and make technology an actual friend rather than a perceived threat .
Despite the pandemic, CircleTalk™ is reaching older adults in their living rooms with our conversation-based programs by meeting people where they are. Only have a landline or cell phone? We have a perfect phone conferencing option that calls you and immediately joins everyone to the rest of the group! Have internet and a tablet? We will remotely connect you to your small group through a Zoom video option.
Let’s get on with the party!
Interested in learning more? Please feel free to contact us at Circletalk.org.