JSA Fall Sypmosium
Triumphs and Trials Using Technology: Social Isolation Among Older Adults
Written by Shanie Levin
At the Fall Symposium of Jewish Seniors Alliance on November 21, Dr. Kristen Haase, Assistant Professor of Applied Science/School of Nursing, at University of British Columbia, and Dr. Megan O’Connell, Professor of Geriatric Psychology, at the University of Saskatchewan, presented their findings in the study of “Social Isolation among Older Adults “during the pandemic. Drs. Haase and O’Connell were welcomed by Gyda Chud, Co-President of Jewish Seniors Alliance. Chud pointed out that this session related to the key pillars of JSA:
- Outreach—to seniors in the community
- Education –We can learn from their results
- Peer Support—Projects to help with loneliness and isolation.
Dr. Haase explained that they wanted to study socialization during the pandemic and how the inability to interact in person impacted seniors. She mentioned that two scientific journals, Lancet and Jama, had commented on the detrimental effect of isolation on seniors. They wanted to look at what is the impact of social isolation and what can be done to alleviate it.
There is empirical evidence that social isolation impacts mental, physical and cognitive health. The pandemic has intensified these problems. Technology facilitates social connection. The idea was to use basic technology to train older adults to use these facilities to lessen their isolation. Using the telephone and Zoom (with basic training) was embraced by many older adults. Even people with some cognitive impairment can be trained to use these tools.
They reached out to groups and individuals in B.C. and Sask. for participants. Four hundred individuals and forty-one seniors groups were involved in the study. Some of the questions were:
How did they change their programs? How did they maintain social connections? Some groups opted to meet outdoors. The advent of the vaccine helped to alleviate some fears. One of the findings was that introverted and rural people and those who had family nearby fared better than the more extraverted. Many community groups rose to the challenge and introduced new technology to their members. They provided training, as well as keeping in touch with frail members. Broad band access in rural areas is problematic so groups in those areas had to make major use of the telephone. A 1-800 line was purchased to facilitate contact with rural areas. These types of disparities (rural vs urban) were highlighted by the pandemic.
A few community groups closed, but many rose to the occasion by staying in regular contact, providing iPads to clients and helping them to learn how to use them. Drs. Haase and O’Connell then turned to the audience for any questions and information that would help with their research.
One of the questions was: How do we find the truly isolated? We usually rely on people to self-identify if they are in need. Larry Shapiro, who had raised the question, pointed out the in the United Kingdom, they use the postal service to check on isolated individuals. Another issue raised was do we need to repeat the tech training and in the future should we continue with a hybrid model of services. This would involve in-person events plus a Zoom possibility. Many older adults are still fearful and need help to re-enter society. Funding will be needed to facilitate hybrid models of programs. Hybrid models also help to include the ill and the disabled. Tammi Belfer thanked the speakers for doing this research and for thus helping to improve the lives of older adults. JSA was thankful to be one of the groups participating in the study.
Dr. Kristen Haase can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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