28 Mar 2019

'There's some way to go' to engage older people with technology - new research

8:01 am on 28 March 2019

New research suggests half of rest home residents do not have the digital technology to stay connected - and those who do have to rely on family and friends to access it.

Happy asian senior man using the mobile phone at home

Photo: 123RF

The study funded by Internet NZ, involved 80 Auckland rest home residents and found almost half had a cell phone or computer, but many were provided it by family or friends.

Lead author and social psychologist at Auckland University of Technology, Dr Wendy Wrapson, said this deficit is particularly concerning for residents did not have family and friends to support their technology use.

She said they risked being digitally excluded, leading to social isolation.

"They may have personal visits from family and friends, but we have found that people who have digital devices, do have a lot more interaction with their family than otherwise," she said.

Dr Wrapson said rest homes could be doing more.

"Some of the newer facilities are coming on board now and they're incorporating computers into common areas, but certainly with older-styled facilities I think there's some way to go.

"What we did find was family and friends often commented if the resident didn't have their own digital device there wasn't one in the facility for them to use."

In most cases, families also had to organise wifi access for residents, as it was often only set up for staff.

Study participants also struggled to find devices suitable for failing eyesight and arthritic hands.

"Technology is largely targeted at the youth market, but our research suggests that an opportunity exists for developers to meet the needs of the rapidly growing older demographic," Ms Wrapson said.

She added low levels of social connectedness are related to poor health outcomes, higher mortality risks and a significant reduction in quality of life.

"Digital engagement in later life might not always be preferred or possible, but it can enhance the well-being of older people through more social interactions and improved access to information."

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