Decreasing isolation with technology

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Physical isolation and quarantines have become the reality for many local seniors to protect themselves from COVID-19, so staying connected with friends and family can be difficult. Local organizations, though, are embracing technology to meet this challenge.

For many seniors, devices like smartphones and tablets and services like Zoom and FaceTime can be hard to understand and pick up on.

“They haven’t had as much experience as many of us at younger ages to be comfortable with it,” said Laura Ward, manager of psychosocial services at Hospicare & Palliative Care Services.

This can lead to a lot of frustration for those who aren’t used to the technology, she said.

“It’s about approach avoidance,” Ward said. “A lot of times, it’s not that seniors can’t figure out how to use it, but they may become more frustrated because they’re less comfortable with it. So, it’s more of the frustration, I think, that gets in the way of the utilization.”

That frustration is why Hospicare and other local services have started walking residents through the usage of different technologies. Hospicare Assistant Director of Community Engagement Sarah Worden shared some of the things Hospicare has been doing for its members.

“Very early into the shelter-in-place quarantine, we launched a Facebook Live series, which airs twice a week and includes tips for wellness and connection from our Hospicare team and really acknowledges the challenge that people are facing right now, whether it’s anxiety, worry, whether it’s different levels of grief, either related to death or related to the nuance of this situation that we’re all in,” Worden said.

Monica Vakiner, director of client services at the Cancer Resource Center (CRC), said that CRC has transitioned its support groups online to some success, and she’s been able to help others better understand what effective tools technology can be.

“My job is to do whatever it takes to help somebody through this process,” Vakiner said. “I run most of the support groups. I do a lot of one-on-one education [and] support. Now, I’m doing it virtually, either over the phone or on Zoom or on email. And currently, I’m doing all of our support groups and educational parts for educational programs on Zoom.”

Cheryl Jewell, executive director of Love Living at Home (LLH), said LLH has also been guiding seniors through the usage of technology, adding that LLH staff are reaching out to members more over the phone.

“We might be the only person they hear from during that day,” Jewell said. “So, it becomes a very important thing, checking in on folks, how they’re doing, if they need anything, they’re OK with groceries and medications.”

That connection is exactly why local organizations like these are using technology more during the pandemic and encouraging seniors to do the same. COVID-19 mandates physical isolation, and as discussed in previous columns, that can be detrimental to someone’s mental and physical health. Ward and others argue technology can help decrease those feelings of isolation.

“They’re already more vulnerable to be isolated, but in this particular situation for their own safety, they’re extremely isolated, and that’s a big challenge,” Ward said. “Technology can help them to be able to connect with their loved ones in new ways that they may not have tried to use before.”

Worden said this communication with friends and family can provide a sense of optimism in what has become a confusing and challenging time for many in the senior population.

“It’s really amazing to see a senior light up when they get to see their grandchildren,” she said. “It really does bring a better quality of life to people.”

Beyond using technology to keep in touch with family, technology is also helping connect seniors with their medical providers, Ward said.

“Perhaps this pandemic is forcing people to use technology because they have to do tele-med appointments with their doctors, which is super important,” she said.

Local organizations understand that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to technology, so leaders are doing what they can to accommodate that.

“We have members who do not have a computer or internet at all,” Jewell said. “And those people, I’ve asked if they would be interested in learning or getting a computer, and they’re really not because it’s not been a part of their life.”

For those who are perhaps reluctant to try using technology due to lack of knowledge, sources encourage trying it out and being patient.

“Just be gentle [with yourself],” Worden said. “Know that it just takes a little bit extra time, but to try to be kind to yourself as you learn a new skill.”

And you don’t have to do it alone, Vakiner emphasized.

“Ask for somebody to talk you through it,” Vakiner said. “It can be kind of scary, but it’s also very beneficial because then all of a sudden, you’re no longer alone during this time. You get to hear other people’s voices. You can see their face.”

Overall, sources are hopeful that this time can be seen as an opportunity to introduce local seniors to a tool that can benefit them long after the pandemic is over.

“Going forward, seniors might actually use technology in more positive ways to connect because they already have challenges with family who doesn’t live around here,” Ward said. “So, maybe this will open the door to more comfort with the technology that will lead to increased connection with loved ones.”

 

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