The benefits of social media for older people
- February 9, 2015
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Uncategorized
An EU-funded study encompassing Italy and South West England has just demonstrated the significant health benefits of social media for older people.
At the report launch in Italy, Tony Watts gave one of the keynote presentations – on how the way to reach the most digitally excluded older people was to break down the artificial barriers between inclusion and health. This is a précis of his presentation.
We live in an ageing society. Not just in Ireland, the UK and in Italy, but globally. And we all know the statistics… how many more of us will have lengthy periods of our later life needing support; how many will be living with dementia, or be socially isolated. Often without families to help us.
This presents governments with huge challenges: not least how do we fund pensions and our rapidly rising health and social care bills? What I want to offer is a dual perspective:
1 how older people themselves can become encouraged and empowered to be part of the solution – and not just be seen as “the problem”;
2 why an ageing population and advancing technologies – the needs and the means – create a perfect storm that present massive global opportunities. Commercial opportunities for whoever can design and deliver joined up digital solutions that older people – the users – will readily adopt and harness to improve their lives.
So how can these aims best be achieved? For some time, there have been artificial barriers between two strands of digital technology: on one hand, the Internet, and with it apps such as social media and using the web for information, advice, entertainment, connecting and communicating… all of which can be a force for good in older people’s lives.
And on the other, digital healthcare: the technology to enable a person to remain living independently in their own home for longer through monitoring their condition and their environment. Both of these technologies are still “in the foothills” amongst older people and are a long, long way from fulfilling their potential. My argument is that, if you put the two together, you create an unstoppable force.
Why we still have so many digitally excluded older people
We still have huge numbers of older people who do not use the Internet, or use it very rarely, because it is seen as expensive, complicated, dangerous. They worry that they might break something or have their money stolen. Most critically, they believe that it’s irrelevant to their lives. “I don’t need the Internet” is the most common phrase I hear. Along with, “I’ve managed 70 or 80 years without it. Why should I bother now?”
For these people, the digital divide is rapidly becoming a digital gulf as more and more important services go on line. Information from public bodies. Banking. Booking hospital appointments. And that’s before all the benefits of getting cheaper holidays, buying your shopping or switching utility suppliers….
It is bad enough now. But this trend will increasingly impact upon the quality of these people’s lives as they become more and more divorced from the way the rest of us connect and communicate. How has that happened? Indeed, how has it been allowed to happen? I believe, in part, it has been a market failure which is only now being remedied.
Look at how you market any new product or service, and you come up with the criteria which will turn potential customers on: will it make my life easier? Or more enjoyable? Perhaps more fulfilling? Will it save me money… what will it do to my quality of life?
Critically, will I enjoy the experience? To me, the way that digital inclusion has been “sold” to older people has all too often been entirely wrong.
For instance, huge amounts of money were spent in our country on encouraging people to go into libraries and learn how to use Microsoft Word, on clunky personal computers that would put off any first time user. Many have been put off because they have been made to feel that they are too old, too stupid to be part of the digital world.
I speak to so many older people who tell me they “have given it a go”, but they found it complicated, even bewildering. They’ve now forgotten what they were taught, and the computer their son or daughter bought them lies unused. Or that – yes, they do have a computer, but they only go on once a day to see if they have any emails, and that’s as far as they feel able to go.
And this all comes down to how easy – or otherwise – the technology appears, and whether this is an enjoyable experience and not just a necessary one.
For someone not used to the iterative steps of digital advancement over the last few decades, or possessed with a young, plastic mind, it’s like persuading someone who has only ever ridden a horse to get into a car and drive. Not only that, the car itself is incredibly difficult to drive. And even worse, it only takes you down a road to a place you never wanted to go to anyway.
But, and it’s a very large “but”, if you stop making people think they are using a computer by giving them a tablet or smart TV to use, you instantly remove a big psychological barrier.
What’s more, this thing that isn’t a computer is easy to use… It’s intuitive, logical and actually enjoyable. And when you start showing people how to use Skype, or enjoy recordings of their favourite TV or radio programmes, you start making it relevant to their lives as well as fun.
For the rest of Tony Watts’ excellent piece please click here