It can be hard of for the elderly living in care home communities to adapt. It’s common for people to feel like they’re losing their independence when they go into care. The daily routines of their lives are often replaced, and they find themselves surrounded by new faces just when they need the support and care of friends and family the most.
We now view internet connectivity is a utility and a basic right, one that older people – particularly those in residential care – need to have access to. Access to a fast and reliable internet connection enables the most socially isolated of us to keep our relationships strong. It lets us watch what we like, when we like and allows us to follow our hobbies and interests wherever we are.
Connectivity in care homes for the elderly
The Office for National Statistics reported that, as of 2016, more than 74% of people aged 65 to 74 were internet users, while almost 39% of those aged over 75 regularly used the internet. However, when examining internet use in care homes, Age UK found that 60% of the UK’s 397,000 elderly care home residents had never used the internet. It also reported that a mere 2,835 of the almost 18,000 care homes in England had internet access – which is obviously a huge barrier to improving that figure.
Many people in the 65-74 age range will have worked with computers, or been around their children who grew up with computers as part of their daily work and leisure activities. Many elderly people living outside of care homes have access to friends, family and other resources through the internet. Care home residents deserve the same level of access.
Explaining the benefits of the internet
Some people just may not want to learn how to use a computer, or go online. They may hear the scare stories, or could have decided that they’re ‘too old’ to learn something like that. But digital inclusion is important for a number of reasons.
Keeping lines of communication open
The world is changing. The way younger generations communicate has moved on. While some in the elder generation grew up writing letters, most of their grandchildren only put pen to paper under parental duress to write thank you cards. They prefer digital communications.
While many advocates of letter writing bemoan this, they’re ignoring (or just don’t know about) the benefits of video calls where you can both see and speak to your friend or family member, no matter where they are in the world.
With digital inclusion, no longer does a resident need to give a shopping list to a member of staff or a family member, now they can do their shopping online, choosing the brands they like and making the substitutions they want. If they can’t get to the theatre or the ballet any more, they can now watch performances online.
They can do what they want, when they want – rather than depending on a set schedule of entertainment provided by someone else.
It’s about choice
In another study, Age UK found that most elderly people who did not use the internet said that it was because they just weren’t interested in doing so. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the option, or that they ‘just need to be convinced’. Independence is about making your own choices, and not having them restricted by ridged structures, or those in authority who think they know what’s best for you.
Care home management
It is not just the residents that benefit, but the care homes themselves. Staff need to be able to compare notes and they need to be able to inform family members on how their relative is. Delays can occur if a member of staff is unable to access these files due to internet connectivity issues, which is why care homes need robust and secure connections.
WiFi can also deliver operational efficiencies, and in some case cost savings. Through the use of IoT, heating and lighting systems can be automated and prescriptions automatically ordered from doctors when a resident is running low on their medication. For more active residents, the home can share news about activities that are taking place and requests can be dealt with quicker.
There are limited barriers to installing and running a WiFi solution in care homes. It’s no different to putting it into a school or a hotel where there are a lot of residents. As we can see from the ONS figures, demand is there, and while not all residents will take up the offer, those that do will benefit greatly from the social contact, entertainment and avenues of independence that digital communication provides.