Staying connected through technology
By Pat Spadafora
Fri., April 30, 2021
I remember when my mother, who lived in Ottawa, used to call me on Sunday evenings after 7 p.m. when telephone rates were lower. We rarely connected outside of those highly anticipated Sunday catch-up conversations. In today’s world, catching up with others is more likely to involve a cellphone, tablet or computer and to take place at any time of the day. That is, more likely for some of us.
Innovations in technology are far-reaching. They include communication platforms like Zoom, FaceTime and Skype, virtual and augmented reality, wearables such as fitness and health trackers, telemedicine, robotics, phone applications for detecting falls, 3D printing and game technology. Technology enables connections between family and friends and can support lifelong learning. It can be a portal to enriching and new experiences originating from anywhere in the world. It can also exclude those without or, with limited, access to technology.
COVID-19 has impacted the ways in which we communicate and stay connected with one another. The pandemic has exposed and highlighted gaps in access to affordable technology, initial training and ongoing support that could increase technology adoption by older adults. For many, this lack of access has intensified the social isolation and loneliness that is disproportionately experienced by many older adults. At the same time, there is evidence that technology use has increased and served to connect older adults.
An AGE-WELL poll, conducted by Environics Research (July 2020) indicated that two-thirds (65 per cent) of Canadians 65-plus own a smartphone, compared to 58 per cent in 2019. Most of the 65-plus who own one (83 per cent) say that they use it daily. In addition, 88 per cent of Canadians 65-plus use the internet daily
Since the pandemic was declared, older Canadians have increased their use of video calls to communicate with their friends and family. Approximately one quarter (23 per cent) use video calling on their smartphones which is twice as many as in 2019. Six in 10 report that this increase is a result of the pandemic.
There has also been an increase in older adults participating in phone and online activities that have enabled them to still feel connected to others. Seniors’ Centres Without Walls is a telephone-based program that has grown tremendously in use by older adults in Ontario during the pandemic and is available in Hamilton. In addition, a growing number of older adults have joined virtual programs offered by Seniors’ Active Living Centres (SALCs) across Ontario.
During the first two weeks of virtual recreation programs offered by the City of Hamilton for older adults, over 300 participants reserved spots. Participation was higher when friends or a spouse/partner participated from the same household. Programs offered (subject to change) include Introduction to Fitness, Chair Fit, Stability, Strength and Tone, Restorative Yoga, Painting, tai chi Fundamentals, Line Dancing (Traditional), Cardio Dance, Drawing and Mind Busters.
Older adult participants in these virtual programs shared comments such as:
“I feel like I can be socially involved again without leaving my home during this time of uncertainty”
“My doctor/ nurse practitioner suggested I try virtual video programing, so glad I did.”
The Hamilton YWCA and the Hamilton Public Library are two additional examples of Hamilton organizations that offer virtual programs and that have worked hard to transition to increased online options. There are many other online options offered by organization in Hamilton.
For those seeking technology support, Cyber Seniors connects older adults with one-on-one telephone support. They can assist with computer and online use for up to 45 minutes at a time. Cyber Seniors can be reached by phone at 1-844-217-3057.
Even as face-to-face programs gradually open up, I expect that virtual programs will continue to play a vital role for the foreseeable future. We must do what we can to include older adults who have been disadvantaged during the pandemic.
Let us also dispel a prevailing myth that older adults are too old to learn technology. That is simply not true. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, many older adults have shown themselves to be resilient and open to new learning. One colleague recently shared a story about a woman in her 80s, with limited technology experience, who asked for assistance to learn Zoom and is now teaching piano lessons on the Zoom platform.
I believe in the value of face-to-face connections. However, technology has provided a lifeline for many during the pandemic and there is every reason to believe that the pervasiveness of technology in our society will persist. We must do what we can to ensure more equitable access.
Two of the recommendations in Hamilton’s Plan for an Age-Friendly Community are: (1) Provide affordable access to technology, initial training and ongoing support, as well as access to the internet and; (2) Provide reliable and consistent internet service to everyone living within Hamilton’s geographic boundaries.
Let’s work together to make that happen.
Pat Spadafora is president of Kaleidoscope Consulting and a member of the Hamilton Council on Aging. For more information about the Hamilton Council on Aging or to make a donation please visit coahamilton.ca.