Isolation spurs digital activity in older people

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Time spent isolated from family and friends due to Covid-19 has spurred older people in Dunedin and Otago to work on their digital skills.

Age Concern Otago executive officer Debbie George said the organisation recently surveyed 4300 seniors across the region, asking them to reflect on their needs for the future.

Debbie George. Photo: ODT files
Debbie George. Photo: ODT files
Of the respondents, 43% had indicated a desire to increase their digital knowledge and skill, including online banking, using social media and smart phones.

Other wishes included more opportunities to connect socially, find companionship, strength and balance, plan for the future, and take cooking and driving skills classes.

"There is clearly a feeling amongst older people, after the isolating experience of lockdown, that they are missing out on the digital world," Ms George said.

"At one time, it was just about connecting with family on social media, but now everything is online - up to and including Government departments."

Research showed that digital exclusion was a growing issue for New Zealanders, and Covid-19 lockdown highlighted that disadvantage, she said.

While those with online access were able to stay connected and buy basic items safely, these things were "an enormous challenge" for those without.

"I believe this exclusion is a human rights issue.

"I would like to see what Government’s digital-first strategy includes for non-tech-savvy Kiwis, to ensure equitable access."

Age Concern Otago is piloting a series of introductory SilverTech smartphone courses this month, in partnership with SuperGrans and supported by the Dunedin-based not-for-profit Community Communications Technology Trust (Com2Tech).

Age Concern Otago health promotion adviser and educator Kristen Beardsmore said the free courses were already oversubscribed and had a waiting list.

"There is clearly a high demand out there among older people for this kind of course," Mrs Beardsmore said.

"It’s about giving people the confidence to have a go. We also want to continue to develop the programme with trained peer leaders, supported by trained inter-generational volunteers."

Ms George said the peer-led model was at the heart of Age Concern’s highly successful falls prevention programme.

"The feedback we get from older people is that they prefer to be taught by people in a similar age group," she said.

"They seem to feel more relaxed."

Ms George said the organisation was also engaging with banks around safe banking and alternative banking methods for older people, including education on avoiding scams.

Age Concern Otago was keen to further develop digital programmes for seniors, in partnership with government and local organisations — under the umbrella of the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa.

"Eventually, we would like to roll it out across Otago," she said.

The Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa aims to ensure that everyone in New Zealand has equal opportunity to participate in the digital world.

In June, the Alliance announced a new customised digital literacy programme, Better Digital Futures for Seniors.

The programme offers four free pathways, each targeting groups of seniors at different stages of their digital journey.


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