Combatting Elderly Loneliness with Technology.
A recent study into the effect that COVID-19 has had on elderly people found a huge spike in the feelings of loneliness since the beginning of 2020. As a result of the necessary need to isolate, an increasing number of seniors have turned to technology to reach out to their friends and family to combat this loneliness.
However, the same survey found that, while the reliance on technology has increased, 28% of elderly respondents didn’t consider themselves confident using the necessary technological devices that could help them keep in touch and reduce their feelings of anxiety and isolation.
Technology is always evolving, and it seems that in the past few years, it’s rapid pace of development has grown even swifter, to the point where we have seen everything from virtual reality to artificial intelligence become a mainstream reality.
Yet with the pace these improvements are developing at, even the most tech-savvy of us are struggling to keep up with the latest developments. It’s no wonder then, that even though seniors are becoming increasingly confident with technology, many are still wary about using the latest devices.
The frustration of trying to learn the core interface of smartphones, tablets and computers can often be a serious deterrent, which often leads to older people reverting to what they know. This means that they’re often not experiencing the amazing benefits of relatively simple devices that can help them fight feelings of loneliness.
How to Introduce Technology to the Elderly
Before discussing the type of technology to invest in, you must know how to approach the situation correctly. Failing to do this correctly risks alienating the very person these gadgets are intended for, meaning they will only end up collecting dust.
If your elderly loved one has already used a similar type of device before, introducing new technology can be relatively easy. Yet if it is their first time using such a gadget, you may have to take a different and more calculated approach.
You can start by giving a simple guide that touches upon some of the key benefits - for instance, if you’re explaining the benefits of a tablet device, like an iPad, you might provide them with a simple and engaging lesson about using the Photo app. Show them how they can look at pictures of their grandchildren, teaching them the basics like swiping to the next picture and pinching to zoom in.
Obviously in the current situation though, you might not be able to give a tutorial in person. Therefore you might want to have the device first and optimise it to make it as easy to use as possible. Using a smartphone or tablet, for example, you could:
- Make sure the software is updated, so no extra updates need to be made straight away
- Increase the size of the text, if the recipient has eyesight issues
- Download the necessary apps that you think may be needed (see below for more info), including setting up accounts and passwords (and make sure to write down all the necessary login info where it can be easily found)
- Complete all the contact info, so all the relevant contact names and numbers are already stored on the device and ready to go.
- Rearrange the Home Screen so that all the relevant and most important apps are on the first screen.
You can also purchase simple guides to go along with the device, such as Computers for Seniors, and once the user gets a bit more used to using the device for internet browsing, sites like WikiHow offer simple, illustrated guides on a whole plethora of ‘how to’ technological (and wider) issues.
Technology That Can Help With Loneliness in the Elderly
Since the launch of the iPad in 2010, tablet devices in all shapes and sizes have now become another ubiquitous gadget in many households. When it comes to must-have technology for older people, this simple computer-like device can act as the foundation for everything else. It can educate them about apps and how they function, and this knowledge can then be applied to other gadgets that have similar functionality.
While many of us need a proper PC or laptop for processing power that can handle software like Photoshop or video games, a tablet’s basic, stripped-down function is perfect for anyone just looking to browse the internet, view photos and enjoy the many amenities that any number of apps offer.
A tablet offers an ideal middle ground. It has the right amount of power and functionality that the vast majority of seniors require, while its touch controls make it easy to get to grips for beginners. With just a couple of clicks, they could be watching a movie on Netflix or reading a book.
Social Media and Forums
Social media is one of the most effective ways for older people to connect with family and friends. Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform in between, it's easy for people to chat with others and keep up to date with all family updates.
Aside from the standard social media platforms, they could also join other communities like groups and forums which focus on a particular interest, as well as forums and social media dedicated to older adults.
While it’s probably unlikely (though certainly not impossible!) that seniors will be wanting to play the likes of Fortnite and Minecraft, there are nevertheless many different games that seniors can play with others.
Perhaps focus on digitised versions of already familiar games like chess, poker and bridge. There are also a host of popular word-play games (like the popular, Scrabble-esque Words With Friends) that can be downloaded as an app and easily played with friends and family.
Aside from the social aspect of gaming, brain games can also assist with keeping brains active and healthy.
Nearly all tablets feature an in-built mic and camera. As a result, elders can use the likes of Facetime, Skype and Zoom to maintain face-to-face contact with friends and family via video chatting.
If they are struggling to use the app and connect, you can direct them to a host of sites dedicated to making it easier to get up and running, such as the Dummies’ iPad for Seniors Facetime pages
There are also specially-designed tablets that have been adapted for older generations. This makes them even easier to use, particularly if they are suffering from an ailment like impaired vision.
Personal Elderly Alarm
It would be remiss of us not to mention Helpline's range of personal elderly alarms. If an older person is home alone and falls ill, this alarm can ensure they receive the attention they need – and prevent the worst from happening.
The personal alarm is effective for many reasons. One of the main reasons is the alarm's design: whether around the neck or on their wrist, the user of the alarm has it on them at all times. So if they fall over and cannot get to a phone for help, they can hit the emergency alarm button for instant assistance.
This is when Helpline's 24/7 expert response unit comes into play. Our team will talk to the user, assess the situation, and then notify the emergency services and/or keyholders with necessary information. Helpline's professionals will also remain on the line until help arrives.
The personal alarm may not directly help fight day-to-day feelings of loneliness, but it will help give the user a sense of security and comfort knowing that help will be at hand if something goes wrong and they won’t be alone in their time of need.
A smartphone features many of the same capabilities as a tablet. In the same way as tablets, some manufacturers have designed phones which have been developed with the older generation in mind.
The GrandPad, for example, is recognised as one of the best choices on the market today. This is essentially a smartphone-tablet hybrid, with a large 8-inch screen and a simple interface. This interface incorporates simple navigation and easy-to-read menu buttons. One of its biggest features is that relatives can manage the GrandPad remotely, meaning they can do everything from adding contacts to checking for spam callers- especially useful at a time when we may not be able to easily pop round.
If a senior does have a tablet, they may not have to invest in a smartphone. Instead, they could purchase a simple flip phone. This device is easy for them to keep on their person, which means they can call or text when needed – which is particularly useful when they are faced with an emergency.
It may also be worth considering purchasing a stylus along with the smartphone. A stylus is a pen-like gadget that allows you to use the touch screen without your fingers. It can therefore be a really handy tool that can help users who may have trouble keeping their hands steady, or those suffering from arthritis and may not have as much dexterity in their fingers.
A virtual assistant is a great device for older people. They don’t have to worry about selecting different apps or using a touchscreen. All of the work can be handled entirely via the power of their voice.
By using a device like Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Home Pod, a senior can chat with the virtual assistant and help in various ways.
In terms of helping to fight loneliness, an older person can feel better by simply chatting to the friendly voice of the virtual assistant. Seniors can also use certain devices to call for help when needed. For example, you can use the 'Ask My Buddy' feature with Amazon Alexa to contact a loved one.
For the more tech-savvy users, you can also purchase a virtual assistant that incorporates a video calling function like Amazon’s Echo Show. While this can be done with a tablet, a virtual assistant camera is typically the more practical option. This way, the device can be left in one area of, say, the living room, allowing a senior to stay connected with another user easily. It can then essentially be left on for hours without interruption, providing a second window into another household.
Of course, it is not just about alleviating loneliness. A virtual assistant can make life a lot easier for seniors. It can be used to provide reminders about when to take medicine, play song requests, and answer any question thrown its way.
That’s right: wearable technology is not simply for the younger generation. There are various devices which are designed specifically for the elderly – including the aforementioned personal alarm.
Another such device is a GPS tracking system. This system can take the form of an unobtrusive watch and is ideal if a senior is at risk of getting lost when going for walks on their own. The GPS function means that you can pinpoint an individual's location and respond before they come to any harm.
Helpline offers an advanced GPS tracker that offers innovative features like a one-touch SOS button, a fall sensor and location updates.
A senior citizen can also utilise a fitness tracker like a Fitbit or Apple Watch. These devices not only allow the user to monitor statistics like calories burnt and the number of steps taken, but, like the GPS devices, they also promote living an active lifestyle. They can help to get older people up and about, and this might even lead to them joining local exercise communities aimed at seniors.