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Care homes are being urged to get their residents online, after figures from carehome.co.uk revealed only a fifth of care homes in Britain have internet access for their residents.
Statistics from carehome.co.uk show only 3,400 of care homes give residents access to the internet. There are over 20,000 care homes in the UK.
Davina Ludlow, director of carehome.co.uk, said: “It would be good to see more care homes giving residents access to the internet.
“The internet can be crucial in giving older people and people with disabilities back their independence and stop them feeling so isolated as they can shop online and order books and DVDs over the internet and chat to family and friends with Skype and look at photos on Facebook.”
Deborah Stone, director of www.myageingparent.com, has concerns that with more and more services and shops going online, what is currently a ‘digital divide’ will become a ‘digital gulf’.
She says: “It needn’t be expensive. It needn’t be complicated. But it does need to be kept simple – and made enjoyable. Tablet use has helped connect hundreds of people – including many with disabilities and living in care homes. We know this can work.”
Her advice to carers and families is to avoid talking to older people about the actual technology behind it – especially the broadband and WiFi issues. “In fact, it’s better not to even mention it’s a computer, but rather to show the older person an app and focus on giving them an enjoyable, stress-free experience”.
Tablets such as iPads are often easier for older people to use especially if their hand-eye coordination has deteriorated as touch screens are so easy to use and are portable.
The charity, Alive!, which provides activities for lonely and isolated older people is currently fundraising to buy iPads to use with care home residents.
A spokesman for the charity said: “Our use of iPads means that care home residents can engage with the newest technology in order to stimulate their creativity and aid reminiscence. We use apps and the internet in group settings and 1-2-1 to allow care home residents to create art, make music or view video clips which they remember from their youth.
“The internet provides an endless resource for reminiscence materials. Whatever each resident wants to see, whether it's a song, video or picture, it can be provided in seconds. By re-connecting with their hobbies, passions and memories, care home residents can once again feel proud of themselves and their achievements.”
The charity has found that after iPad sessions, the intellectual and emotional well-being of older people improves and lasts for days after. Residents also tend to be more conversational leading to better relationships with peers and care home staff, ultimately improving social care.
Currently it only has four iPads to use across a hundred care homes. It also wants to raise some money to train up care staff so they can use the iPads and the internet outside of the charity’s activity sessions. Humphry Repton House in Bristol run by the Aspect & Milestones Trust has been using iPads with their residents.
A care worker there has been working with a resident with dementia. He appeared to find it difficult to concentrate on any cognitive activities such as looking at a book as he gets easily distracted and finds it difficult to sit still for more than five minutes.
“I approached Harry as he was walking through the lounge and showed him the iPad, with the Line Art app. I showed him how my fingers created patterns on the screen which moved according to my movements. He was immediately interested in this, saying how he thought it was “magical.” I tried to encourage Harry to have a go, but he kept his hands firmly in his pockets and would not touch the device. However, he asked me to sit with him on the sofa so that he could have a better look.
"I showed Harry the Pottery app. Again, he would not touch the screen, keeping his arms folded across his chest the whole time, but I had his undivided attention as I formed a pot. He said that my pot reminded him of a demijohn, and then went on to reminisce at great length about when he used to make wine at home. He remembered making cherry wine from the tree in his garden. We looked at YouTube and were able to find a film of someone demonstrating how to make wine, and this again prompted memories of all the wine making equipment that he used to use.
“What I found most interesting was that despite Harry’s reluctance to touch the iPad, it still held his attention for 25 minutes, something which is most unusual for him. The fact that he sat still for that long is also unusual.
“This has shown that with the right sort of resources he can concentrate for longer periods than we at first realised.”
Shirley Ayres, a digital engagement and social innovation consultant working across the care sector, would like to see all care homes giving residents access to the internet.
She says: “If I was looking for a care home I would certainly want to know about internet access, how residents are being supported to use the internet and whether technology is enhancing the lives of their residents.
“A good quality of life in older age means having a sense of purpose and full inclusion within the community with strong social contacts and mental stimulation. This does not stop when people move into residential care.
“So many older people in care homes do not live close to their families. Adopting technology is an obvious solution to provide a “window on the world”. Social isolation is a significant issue for older people and it is easy to see the connection between the ‘social’ in social networks and the potential to combat loneliness.”
“I accept that there are considerable variations in care homes in terms of their culture, ethos, ownership and the people who live in them. However the internet is a powerful communications tool and I believe that care homes have an important role to play in addressing the digital divide for older people.”
She also believes that care home staff could be using technology much more creatively such as Skype consultations with doctors to avoid trips to hospitals.
“Technology has opened up new ways of connecting and providing intellectual stimulation for everyone, regardless of their interests and capabilities Maybe it is time to encourage the Care Quality Commission to strengthen the inspection standards to include access to the internet and effective mental stimulation as a basic requirement of residential care?” she adds.
Shirley Ayres can be found blogging on the digital divide and care homes at http://shirleyayres.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/should-all-care-homes-provide-internet-access-for-residents/