Guest contributor Evelyn James examines how charities are using digital to reach out to older service users
As the country’s most vulnerable continue to isolate or shield themselves from, technology is proving to be a lifesaver in keeping older folks connected. Charities of all kinds are now stepping up and finding ways to support older people through the pandemic, using the power of the internet and a host of digital devices and apps. Here’s a look at what some charitable groups are doing to help older service users reap the full benefits of staying digitally connected.
This well-known group has reams of information about COVID-19 online, and also publishes free technology guides to help seniors navigate topics like online safety or how to use video calls to stay in touch with friends and family. The Age UK advice line is also always open to calls for support, meaning that even those who find using their phone or tablet intimidating can get some straightforward guidance. They’re also providing befriending services for those who’d just like a chat, as well as digital training courses to help elders feel more confident with the technology that will help them stay connected to those they love.
If you’re a carer or family member, there are some helpful articles on assisting the elderly to use technology to stay in touch while staying safe. Be patient, and if necessary, there’s nothing wrong with picking up the phone for a good old-fashioned phone call!
According to home care support provider Helping Hands, “If you or a loved one has found themselves in this situation and you need extra support at home but are worried about the cost of care, there are funding options available to you….The Government have announced £2.9 billion in local social care funding due to coronavirus.”
Though this is not strictly a charity, the UK government has made and continues to make allowance for the fact that elders need a little extra support right now, and this includes making sure that they have the hardware and software they need to connect to the world.
Self-isolation is hard for anyone, but can pose particular challenges to the elderly, who can feel fearful, alone or confused, or else miss more regular contact with others. Inspiring charities like The Help Hub has sprung up to assist elders during these difficult times, and consists of around 20 mental health workers who are committed to offering free 10 minute sessions for older people. Whether it’s emotional support or practical help (“how do I chat to my grandson on Skype?”), the Help Hub is all ears.
For some people, faith and religious life are an incredible source of strength and wellbeing during difficult times. It can be devastating to give up a weekly outing to church or forgo a regular source of comfort and socialising that comes with belonging to a church community. Thankfully, churches around the country are seeing the need to reach out to their oldest members. The Church of England, for example, has introduced a “telephone church service” which allows people to tune into a sermon while in isolation (24-hour national line: 0800 804 8044.) Other virtual services are available, and seniors can find chaplain support and guidance on how to connect via smartphone or tablet.
Volunteers in the abilitynet network have the IT skills needed to help elderly people via phone. They can help you install software, interpret error messages, get you back online, or get familiar with using chat platforms or social media.
Charities and organisations of all kinds have had to update their online strategy considerably, publishing more supportive content to help vulnerable people gain better access to the support they need.
The BBC has published guides to help older family members, the Family Online Safety Institute has simple articles aimed at getting seniors familiar with technology and there are even apps and tools designed specifically for elders. Oscar Senior is an app that simplifies video calling and can work even with minimal computer knowledge, and KOMP is similar, offering a way for seniors to stay in the conversation when using technology they “didn’t grow up with.” There are now extra-large tablets and other devices made just for seniors, and IT advice specifically geared for older people.
The world has needed to find creative ways to use technology to work, connect socially, and find information and help. However, older people can find this difficult, and may need a little extra help. As we all pull together through the crisis, it’s worth sparing a thought for the elders in our lives and taking the time to include them.