“If you’d told me 20 years ago I would have been saying this, I would have said ‘never.’ I fought against it, believe me. It's ridiculous... but there's a big wide world out there and more older people should learn to use a computer.”
According to Ofcom1, 51% of the over 75s do not use the internet. At a time when the pandemic has meant people have become increasingly reliant on technology to keep them connected with others, should we be encouraging them to get online?
Re-engage received funding from the Essex Community Foundation to conduct bespoke primary research into the technology needs of older people. We wanted to understand the best ways we can support older people online and keep them connected to their community.
Keen to amplify the voices of older people and avoid making assumptions, we commissioned market research company, Message House, to interview older people who live in Braintree and Chelmsford. We included those who use the internet and those who don’t in the research.
“It’s opened a new world to me.”
The research found that getting online is an ongoing journey for every individual, often over 20+ years, with inevitable bumps in the road. If people have a sense of being supported and are helped to overcome initial fears, it’s possible to encourage older people to move online.
Less interested in having the latest tablet or smartphone, it’s often the human connection and their existing hobbies that motivates them, particularly in the absence of any family help.
Also, seeing other older people, friends and family get online reinforces the idea that getting online isn’t just for younger people.
“I seem to spend a lot of time on the computer, and I’ve bought myself a smartphone because I thought we’re going to spend a lot of our lives in the future in the virtual world.”
We also found that the pandemic has encouraged more older people online and has helped people to stay connected to friends and family, as well as being a lifeline for things like food shopping.
“My sister…she’s on her own as well…Christmas Day, she was on her own, I was on my own, so we cooked our dinners so that they synchronized, and we had the portal on, and ate our dinners together… These little things are a godsend. Of course, you’ve got to have the internet. It’s no good without the internet.”
However, the research did show that, for some people, getting online just doesn’t appeal, sometimes because they have health issues or they fear being a burden. This means services like Call Companions and Tea Parties remain absolutely vital to reducing loneliness and social isolation.
The research findings from Message House will help inform an exciting larger project, surveying more of the older people who use our services, including tea parties and Call Companions.
The overall findings will help us develop our services and further our understanding of how we can best support older people online.
Online Chair Yoga classes for older people
We caught up with Margaret Hudson who's been teaching Chair Yoga to older people across Wales as part of our online exercise programme.
'What a year it's been for me!'
Call companion coordinator, Jade Colebrook, joined us when she was on furlough last year…