Helping seniors with technology during the pandemic

June marks Seniors Month and this year’s theme is “Stay safe, active and connected”. Connectivity has never been more important than in this last year, when the pandemic separated people from their friends and families for an extended period of time. With the older population being so much more vulnerable to COVID-19, they are more likely to spend more time physically distancing for longer than the rest of the general population. Sadly, this isolation can have major repercussions.

A recent study showed that social disconnection puts older adults at greater risk of depression and anxiety, and can even lead to health problems such as cognitive decline and heart disease. People with strong social bonds are 50 per cent less likely to suffer negative effects from isolation than those who have fewer social connections.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the reality of senior isolation and loneliness in Canada and demonstrated the need to empower seniors with digital literacy skills. Digital literacy and access to technology are critical for seniors to connect with their community and gain access to basic needs like food, government support and healthcare.

Enter Northern Lights College in Chetwynd, BC – a community with a high senior population. This year the College’s Community Adult Literacy Program (CALP) introduced Youth Teaching Adults to its community to help seniors learn how to better use technology. Youth Teaching Adults is a free introductory digital literacy program for adult learners offered by ABC Life Literacy Canada. The program offers several downloadable lesson plans on topics such as Zoom, Gmail and YouTube.

Meagan Reid-Wolfe, Coordinator at CALP, used these lesson plans to deliver tailored programming to the many seniors in the community.

“A lot of seniors have cell phones, laptops and iPads, but they don’t know how to use them,” says Reid-Wolfe. “Their adult child will buy them a device and set it up and leave it with them, but then they have no idea what these apps on the device do. We ran this program to help seniors become more comfortable with their devices.”

Reid-Wolfe explained that she would print off hardcopies of the lesson plans and leave them behind with learners so that they had something to refer back to in case they forgot how to do something.

CALP ran sixteen workshops over March and April, visiting seniors in person for 90 minutes to give them a full run-down of how to use their devices.

“There’s a lot of simple features that users don’t know exist that can make a big difference, such as a magnifying glass tool that increases font size,” says Reid-Wolfe. “We also set up their emergency contact and medical ID and show them how to use their phone in the event of an emergency.”

Reid-Wolfe says the lessons can be customize based on what the learner wants to know. She gave the example of a learner that wanted to know how to put music on her phone, so Reid-Wolfe demonstrated how to use the app store to download Spotify, and walked the learner through the app. She also showed users how to personalize the phone and apps for themselves, as the phones were usually customized for the needs of their adult son or daughter who set up the device.

“Their phone screens are 3-4 pages full of apps that they don’t use, so I show them how to organize the apps and put them into folders. It’s really amazing to watch the lightbulb go on as they understand. All they need is someone to take the time to sit with them and answer their questions.”

To learn more about Youth Teaching Adults or to download free lesson plans, visit YouthTeachingAdults.ca.