Tablet

Does she use the Internet?

By: Vicky Sargent @vickysargent
Published: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 19:26 GMT Jump to Comments

The radio programme ‘Does he take sugar?’ highlighted a tendency to treat disabled people as generally incapable. The same syndrome affects older people and the Internet.

At a conference last week on social care and digital, one of the speakers spoke of research with care home residents that showed a mismatch between their digital aspirations and those of their families.

While the older people told researchers they had been hoping to receive tablets and smart phones for Christmas, family and friends had actually produced chocolates, perfume and other items considered suitable for Grandmas (Grandads presumably getting socks and jumpers).

Statistics do tell us that older people are less likely to use the Internet. ONS data says that of 6.7m UK adults (13.1%) who are not online, almost three quarters of this group are 65 or older, and in the 75+ age bracket, more than 60% of people are not online.

There are many reasons for this. Research studies highlight the cost of devices and connection, lack of digital skills (older cohorts may never have used computers at work), security concerns, lack of interest and even fear and resentment at the age of ‘digital everything’.

The cost issues are fast diminishing now that free wifi is widespread (although important to remember not everywhere) and connection through hotspots is increasingly an option. The price of tablets and smartphones is also tumbling. At the same time there is increasing evidence of the benefits of being online, ranging from access to lower cost goods and services, to opportunities for connecting with existing friends and family, as well as finding new interests and new social networks online.

The digital skills charity Digital Unite says the latter is particularly important, with depression affecting 20% of older people living in the community and 40% living in care homes for older people, compared with 10% of the population at large.

Digital Unite research has shown that, of those over 55s who are using the internet, four out of five (86%) said it had improved their lives. 72% said that being online had helped reduce their feelings of isolation and 81% said it makes them feel part of modern society.

The same research also says that rates of digital exclusion in social care are higher than in the general population. So, with 1.6 million people providing adult social care services in England, and 6 million unpaid carers (many of whom suffer equally from loneliness and isolation), it is important to work with both carers and those who are cared for to ensure both parties are digitally capable and confident.

One lever that can be used to overcome the perception by some older non-liners that ‘there is nothing on the internet for me’ is their health. There is plenty of information and advice online to help and support people with disabilities and long-term conditions, and this can be used as an incentive to get people started.

This is part of the thinking behind NHS England’s Widening Digital Participation programme, which is run by the Tinder Foundation (which also runs UK Online centres) to get large numbers of people, particularly older people, to improve their digital health literacy.

Up to March 2014, the programme had engaged with 100,000 people, and actively trained nearly 60,000. In 2014-15, the respective targets are 121,500 and 81,000, and the programme has further ambitions to get GPs and health practitioners involved, with training taking place in GP surgeries.

According to Bob Gann, NHS England’s Director for the Widening Digital Participation programme, it is having a really positive effect on people’s lives. ‘Reducing isolation and loneliness is just one way technology can help,’ he says, ‘and when a lot of evidence suggests that this is as great a risk to the health and wellbeing to the elderly population as obesity, it shows how important the work is.’

In addition to this programme, UK Online Centres have 43 specialist centres, specifically set up to help older people learn about computers and the internet within their local communities. They can cite plenty of examples of people who have come to the Internet at a late age and found it transformative.

Two examples, featured as part of last week’s ‘Get online week’, are Stella Cruse, 80, and Doreen Milner, 78, who met at  ‘Get Online’, a computing course for ‘absolute beginners’ at Devizes Library, run by local UK online centre The Learning Curve.

According to Stella, ‘there’s no denying that when you know practically nothing about computers the first few sessions are quite hard work..[but] now Doreen and I can do all sorts of things online that we’d never even imagined.’ Her friend continues ‘It’s a great way to keep the grey matter going, a great way to follow your hobbies, and a great way to meet people. Computers and the internet aren’t going away and using them really can be enjoyable. Stella and I are living proof - we’re having a great time!’

Another story told by UK Online is that of 78 year-old Norah Hanley, who lost her husband of 55 years following a period of caring for him full time. After attending computer classes and then buying her own computer, Norah was inspired to take up a diet plan supported by an online community for sharing tips, recipes and dieters’ stories.

Having never been successful with dieting before, she lost four stone, which has had a significant impact on her health generally, including her diabetes and arthritis. According to Norah “the more I learn about the internet and use it, the more it changes my life. And as my dad used to say 'if you're lucky enough to be born in to this world, the only sure thing is death. But between the two there's a lot of living to do!'"

So, if you were thinking of giving your Nan a box of chocs and a nice scarf this Christmas, think again. Why not investigate the launch by Argos, as part of Get Online Week, of a tablet, training on how to use it, and a year’s free broadband from TalkTalk, all for £20.

Vicky Sargent attended the Digital Care Surgery - Innovating for Change event in Birmingham organised by DISCOVER. The project aims to familiarise carers with digital technologies and embed them in their day-to-day lives.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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