Seniors, Technology and COVID-19
We have asked a lot of our seniors over this last year. Stay home, stay safe, and if you’re not already tech-savvy, please quickly navigate the steep learning curve. As an Elder Law attorney, and caregiver for my own grandparents, I want to share a few of the areas where I have personally seen technology add significant obstacles to seniors’ everyday lifestyle over this last year.
Zoom/FaceTime Meetings with Family
Seniors living in the community have had less restrictive visits with friends, family and caregivers. Meanwhile, those senior residents of long term care facilities have had limited, if any, access to in person contact with their families in many cases for almost a year now. Zoom meetings and FaceTime calls have been an option for those seniors who have devices and who are able to facilitate those calls.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging (“Aging”) has been made aware of this accessibility issue, as well as other technological concerns, and are working to deliver funding in several important areas. First, Aging is purchasing smart phones, tablets, and other devices and getting them into the hands of senior centers, nursing homes and other long term care facilities. Studies are showing that lack of face to face interaction has led to an increase in depression among seniors. These devices will be integral in enabling seniors to stay connected with their families, friends and loved ones.
Many medical providers have moved either entirely away from in person services, or have severely limited accessibility to in person appointments. Providers now offer their patients Tele med appointments, particularly for those routine and non-urgent medical appointments. For seniors lacking requisite devices, and with calendars scheduled around their doctor appointments, many are unsure how to stay connected with their care providers. Aging’s outreach at this point seems focused on getting devices to seniors in care facilities, overlooking those seniors still living independently in the community.
Fairly early on, most major grocery stores and retailers offered “senior hours,” an hour window in the early morning when stores would be accessible solely to seniors. But for those seniors who are not early risers, or who were simply too worried to shop in person, grocery shopping apps offered a viable solution. However, many seniors do not have the accessibility to smart phones and Wi-Fi, and those owning smart phones often lack the dexterity and eyesight necessary to navigate the apps.
Some grandparents have even found themselves taking on the role of caregiver and teacher to their grandchildren, now learning virtually. Seniors are learning to navigate devices and programs in order to keep their grandchildren engaged and on track, fearful not to let the kids fall behind academically. Aging has been made aware of these difficulties and has targeted Caregiver Support services to aid seniors in meeting the technological needs of their grandchildren. Still much work remains to be done in this area in terms of outreach and education as seniors may be unaware that such Caregiver Support services are available, or may be unsure how to access such services.
Access to COVID Vaccine
Finally, and maybe most immediately significantly, seniors are facing hurdles in accessing the COVID vaccine. Long term care providers have carried out a heroic effort in getting its residents and staff vaccinated. Still, those seniors living independently in the community remain unclear about how they can gain access to the vaccine. My grandfather can proudly (and does proudly) report that he has now received both of his COVID shots courtesy of the Coatesville Veterans Administration. The VA’s outreach efforts are familiar to seniors – simply call or stop by the VA and receive your vaccine. On the other hand, I have had to assist my grandmother in enrolling on waiting lists at area hospitals, as such enrollment is done electronically. Traditionally seniors turn to their primary care doctor for guidance, however most doctors offices still have not received access to the vaccine. Aging has undertaken an effort to educate seniors about accessing the vaccine, however still, those lacking the technological savvy and devices are unsure where to gain access to the vaccine.
Our seniors want to stay in touch, to be informed, and to feel safe. If a senior in your life could benefit from training on a device, please take the time and help them navigate this steep learning curve. If you would like more information on services available to seniors and their caregivers, please visit the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s website at www.aging.pa.gov or email [email protected], a recently formed group dedicated to helping people get access to the vaccine.