How digital inclusion is benefiting the lives of older people in the community

Leeds Irish Health & Homes is a welfare charity offering a variety of services such as housing and outreach support, not only to the Irish community in Leeds but also to the wider community as a whole.  They help people to meet their own personal aspirations, make more positive lifestyle choices and live as independent a life as possible. 

A proportion of the older people that they help experience loneliness and isolation.  Their CARA project seeks to reconnect these people to their community and support them in getting out and about again.

The support staff could see the clear benefits of digital inclusion to their service users’ lives in terms of reducing their isolation and improving their wellbeing, but were unable to offer any kind of substantial provision that would enable them to discover the kind of difference that being online might make to their lives.  With this in mind, they applied to borrow devices from the 100% Digital Leeds tablet lending scheme to use with older people on a 1:1 basis in their homes. 

Embedding this initiative in the work of support staff has had a great impact on the lives of the people they help: from visiting care homes and using technology to improve residents’ memory, cognition and mood, particularly those with dementia; to home visits helping people access services and address issues, especially around welfare, that enable them to live more independent and resilient lives. 

We’ve used the iPads with people who might have had to go somewhere else to get their benefits or housing or other issues to do with their independent living sorted out, and it’s been really useful for those people, especially the ones that are less able to get out and about. 
A lot of things they need to do can only be done online now.  It’s a lot less frustrating for them, and we can reassure them by supporting them through a form or system.  It’s really helpful for people who we help that are already quite disadvantaged – some have chronic illnesses, anxiety or are lacking in confidence – to know that they can get issues sorted easily.

As well as having that positive impact on service users’ lives, being part of the tablet lending scheme has greatly improved the efficiency of Leeds Irish Health & Homes’ support staff, whether that’s the time saved by not having to travel to the relevant organisation with a service user by bus, or being able to engage those who are lonely and isolated much more quickly, thereby increasing the number of people that they can reach.

There’s a lady who’s 88 and had only recently gone into a care home who was feeling quite down, never wants to join in, but using an iPad on a 1:1 basis we looked at pictures of Leeds from 50 years ago and she opened up and started talking about her past and places she lived, and it was the most animated I’ve ever seen her.  She has completely came out of herself in ways that other things that we’d done hadn’t had any impact on.  It really seemed to brighten her day and just get her talking.  I could see her feeling empowered and pleased that she was able to talk about something she knew about.  The reports back from the staff are that she’s actually been quite happy and relaxed, and her mood has improved, so she is more willing to talk about things.

Being able to take the tablets to people and bring the online world into their own homes, tailored to an individual’s own interests, enables the support staff to easily demonstrate how the internet is for everyone.  The importance of a dedicated staff member who knows the older person and has an awareness of what’s available online is paramount; they are able to break down misconceptions about the internet and show them the practical things that will appeal to them, whether that’s keeping in touch with family members or saving money by shopping for things online.  As a result, service users keep learning and their confidence and quality of life is improved.  The changes in attitude and perception are evident, and contributes to Leeds Irish Health & Homes’ mission to help people in the community make positive lifestyle choices and live independent lives.

This scheme has enabled us to change people’s attitudes and show them specifically what’s out there that might interest them.  People say that “you can do everything on the internet” – but what is this ‘everything’?  It’s really hard to explain to somebody.  What does it mean for them?  You have to be clear about what it practically can help you to do e.g. checking bus times means that you don’t get stuck in the rain waiting for a bus.  Unless you can be specific about the benefits to them you won’t get through to them.  Show them at their own pace what they can do, and make it as easy as possible for them.