Older people want to be involved – digital tech can help

I’ve now posted all the content from the Nominet Trust exploration into digital technology for later in life to a new site, and I’ll be looking for opportunities to suggest its wider relevance. Here’s one.

A report from the Shaping our Age project, featured in today’s Guardian, concludes Older people don’t want to be passive recipients – they want to get involved – which resonates strongly with the Ten pillars of wisdom manifesto I helped developed recently with Tony Watts and Bryan Manning.

Peter Beresford, leading the project team, writes:

The main route older people see to improving their wellbeing is social contact and the route to this was having a say and involvement. But this doesn’t mean getting sucked into committees, procedures and bureaucracy, the stuff of old-style engagement. Instead they want to be asked what they want, supported to widen their horizons, recognised as having a lifetime of skills and experience, offered opportunities to meet other people – of all ages – and supported to do the things they like to do.

This demands the redeployment of existing resources to equip volunteers and workers with new facilitating skills, to work alongside them, listening and encouraging, crucially developing conversations, instead of keeping older people occupied or attended to. All this is true whether older people are living with dementia, are physically frail, or still feel fit and strong.

By breaking the link with traditional stereotypes, services are likely to reach a much wider range of older people. As Shaping Our Lives found, older people who kept their distance from existing services were prepared, perhaps for the first time, to join with others, take on new tasks or do things they hadn’t done for years. As they say themselves: “It’s vital not to treat older people as older people”; “Older people need to be encouraged to say what they want… to do as much as they can and want to do.”

What’s needed now are the 21st-century equivalent of the old “Darby and Joan” clubs, to reconnect older people – not just more of the same. And, critically, older people themselves must be centrally involved in formulating what this will look like. With our dramatically changing demographics, policies must now catch up and move from “doing to”, to being “involvement-led” for this increasingly important minority in our society.

There’s the promise in the article of a fuller report Involving Older Age, the route to 21st century wellbeing and it will be interesting to see if they have any suggestion about how digital technology can help with involvement and independent living. There’s quite a bit in our digital technology for later life work, and certainly in that by Shirley Ayres, which we referenced here.

One comment on the Guardian article, from Jennie Holland says:

Gransnet local is doing just this, enabling meet-ups and online forums so that we can socialise as persons in our own right without having to “do” some activity deemed good for us by some third party. Only recently launched there are already new bonds and relationships being made, there is a lovely thread on the Middlesbrough forum which sums it all up.

The thread is brilliant, and another example of the great conversation space developed by Gransnet. One of the highlights of our exploration was the Gransnet discussion about technology facilitated and summarised by Geraldine Bedell. The original forum discussion here.

What’s slightly disturbing is that I haven’t heard the Shaping our Age report mentioned by others that I’ve been working with in the field  … which may just be another example of the problems of knowledge sharing that we – and Shirley Ayres – have highlighted. Theme 4: Better sharing of knowledge, experience and resources could foster innovation.

Update: I’ve now found a link to the full report via a tweet from Peter Beresford’s accountInvolving Older Age: The route to 21st century well-being. It is full of wisdom, but with a slightly negative tone about technology, which is mentioned briefly. David McCullough, Chief Executive, Royal Voluntary Service, starts his foreword:

Sometimes in our working lives we’re lucky to see something that is simple and yet profound. I’ve been privileged to join the Royal Voluntary Service (nee WRVS) a little while after the Shaping our Age project began and have watched the initial findings turned into reality in the local projects.

I use the word profound carefully because while this project hasn’t been about investing in shiny new things or making technology the answer to all our challenges, it has thankfully been about new ways of doing familiar things – with remarkable results.

However, there is this recommendation:

IT support to facilitate communication between people and to source information

The provision of information that is relevant, brief, up-to-date, jargon free and accessible. Many participants involved with Shaping our Age questioned the use of technology to meet the information requirements of all older people. This participant argued for more face-to-face contact to tailor information to the preferences of individuals.

Older people like face-to-face contact because they haven’t grown up with technology like this generation.

Information providers also need to take into account the particular communication needs of groups such as older people from black and minority ethnic communities, those with sensory impairments or who for other reasons communicate differently or non-verbally.

Which is fair enough, and perhaps opens the door to a conversation about how appropriate tech can be helpful. It is important, as John Popham highlights in promoting his important event for social housing providers, which I reported here, government plans to put all services online means there’s no escaping tech if you wish to claim benefits, for example.

Here’s a few of the provocations from our work for Nominet Trust that I think are relevant to the Involving Older Age work:

  • Look at personal needs and interests as well as common motivations – one digital size won’t fit all.
  • Build on past experience with familiar technology as well as offering new devices – they may do the job.
  • Consider the new life skills and access people will need as technology changes our world – using technology is ceasing to be optional.
  • Turn the challenge of learning about technology into a new social opportunity – and make it fun.
  • Address social isolation and other challenges through a blend of online and offline – they don’t need to be different worlds.
  • Enable carers and care services – both for direct use of technology and to act as proxies.
  • Use digital technologies to enhance existing connections of family and friends – and help each other learn.



One comment

  • June 30, 2013 - 7:41 pm | Permalink

    congratulations on a timely and a “profound” blog posting. Many of the issues that you flag up here are also relevant to another group of people who have been neglected in terms of digital technology. People with Aspergers syndrome are very often isolated and desperate for social interaction, yet suffer from deep difficulties with face to face communication, as they are wired differently and have a range of social problems including an inability to read people’s intentions: from their faces. Many also cannot easily manage public transport, having acute sensory difficulties, around noise and lights.
    So many of the provocations from your work for Nominet Trust are also relevant to the Involving of people with Aspergers, one in a hundred people are on the Austistic spectrum. Aspergers syndrome is a scion of that spectrum, affecting people who are often of high intelligence.


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