Guest Blog: Older Adults and “Cutting-edge” Technology

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By Sally Hughes

What are the challenges in later life that persist as barriers to optimal creative, active aging? What are the most current technological advances that might help to increase older adults’ wellbeing? And how can older adults increase their access to the newer innovative technological products?

One of many stereotypes around aging is that seniors are resistant to new ideas and advances in technology. Not all seniors feel comfortable using technology, either because they don’t trust it or don’t understand how to use it. However, seniors were the first group to adopt wearables: in 1972, gerontologist Andrew Dibner created the Lifeline call button, a wearable emergency response system specifically designed to assist seniors.

The market of older adults (coined as the ‘silver market’ by Kohlbacher and Hang, 2011) is blossoming because their demand for new, just-good-enough, easy to use, and affordable products and services has increased so exponentially. However, research about barriers and challenges that face older adults who use technology is scarce…a lot more exploration needs to be done to ensure that the technology is accessible and easy to use, and designed with the older consumer in mind.

Today’s cohort of ‘seniors’ are functioning in a digital world where new social networks or “communities” seem to spring up on the Internet constantly. There are many social networks (groupings of individuals tied by one or more specific types of interests) available on the Internet that are useful and suitable for older adults: those living in rural areas, or who are living alone, may derive great benefit from the Internet. Social networking can be a way to meet online with local people or people from around the world. Major life changes such as relocation or divorce can leave a huge void in people’s lives, and finding a social networking site for older people can help to rebuild confidence and widen social circles.

“Baby Boomers” reconnect with old friends, make new friends, or simply to share personal information and media files (photos, videos, music) with others, all with the benefit of keeping them mentally and socially vital. As well as the large social networking sites, there is a plethora of smaller and more specialized sites that have been set up for specific interests, such as ‘Ravelry’, a site for knitters and crocheters, and ‘Bakespace’, a place to exchange recipes.

Directories are available (e.g. Wikipedia, Yahoo) to assist in finding sites. Some are:

  • Silversurfers – to connect with people from similar walks of life
  • Yahoo Groups – interests/hobbies
  • Meetup – connects with people in the community to try something new
  • seniorchatters – a place to chat, create personal blogs and join group forums
  • 50connect– living life to the full, health, entertainment, food & drink
  • Dogster – a site dedicated to dog lovers
  • Catster – a site dedicated to cat lovers
  • Hell’s Geriatrics – invites you to grow old disgracefully
  • The Oldie – an online newspaper for over 50s
  • Modern & Mature – a site aimed to help you make the most of your golden years
  • olderiswiser – branded as the ‘social networking site for grown-ups’
  • Never Mind The Bus Pass – a site aimed at those who don’t feel ‘older’
  • Gransnet – a website specifically aimed at grandparents
  • Over50sForum – a place to chat, share and make friends
  • fiftyplusforum – a forum to discuss interests and chat to others
  • Seniors.com – offers its members an online community who participate in its forums, chat functionalities, and other site-based tools designed to encourage members to share information and stories
  • ThirdAge – discusses issues concerning health, aging and retirement
  • CARP – news, games, photos, videos, or even tips on where to get discounts
  • Rezoom – to create a personal profile, share and connect with others and share photos
  • Multiply – (in use long before Facebook) has fun tools such as cards, calendars, photo editing, and more
  • Senior Chatroom – its focus is making web chat much easier and accessible to older adults
  • My Boomer Place – describes itself as a place to “meet, congregate and develop new relationships.” You can freely create your own profile and share information

Sharing links, photos, videos, news and status updates with a growing network of contacts with people of all ages can provide a valuable connection to faraway family and friends: the children and grandchildren of older adults document many aspects of their lives through social media.

There are many online forums where older Canadians are coping with challenging life situations, such as informal caregivers of a partner or parent with dementia or other health conditions, can exchange thoughts with others in similar situations, as well as receive and offer support. Older adults who experience loneliness and feelings of being isolated can connect with family and friends, as well as others in similar situations.

A variety of digital tools (‘apps’) are available on smartphones and tablets to simplify and enhance life. In addition to social media apps (Facebook, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat) there are apps for book lovers (GoodReads, Kindle and Kobo), tools to organize shopping (Shopper app, Checkout51), health and fitness apps (FitBit, myfitnesspal, Medisafe Meds and Pills), gardening (My Garden, GrowVeg) and many more.

“Wearable technology” is creating a revolution in the way in which people can ensure their personal safety. Emergency and assistance calls can be made using everything from wearable tags to call units to mobile phones, and the tags can also track movement. There is a plethora of mobile ‘apps’ that collect data (heart rate, blood pressure, and amount of sleep.

Robot companions for older people that promote activity and attempt to address loneliness by encouraging them to take part in digital and physical activities are continuing to surface. Robot companions like the Paro (a touch-reactive electronic harp seal) have been shown to induce relaxation, reduce stress, and stimulate communication. Subsequent robots (e.g. ‘Palro’) offer to play games and dance with older adults, keeping their minds active with trivia. Home assistants such as the Amazon Echo, have been the precursors for interactive communication: these robots have voice-activated control systems and enable users to make video calls, play online games and interact on social media.

In the future, personal robots could aid older isolated people with time consuming household and personal hygiene tasks, such as showering or using the toilet, which can create an embarrassing dynamic between an older adult and the caregiver, and so also might make ideal tasks for robot care assistants. Furthermore, with the aid of personal robots, caregivers could spend more time engaging in one-on-one conversation, providing valuable social interaction.

We live in exciting times, and the potential for older adults to benefit from the new, innovative technologies is enormous! Once the research and exploration is done to ensure that the design and usability is optimized, technological ‘gadgets’ and social networking can really improve the quality of life for many older adults.

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Sally is a long-term part time professor at Sheridan, teaching in the SSW/Gerontology program since 1985. After retiring from her 30-year position as a hospital/ geriatric social worker, she chose to re-enter university on her 65th birthday and has achieved her PhD in Social Dimensions of Health this past year.

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Guest Blog: To live is to learn – A lifelong learning journey at the Centre

By Marta Owsik

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death
~ Albert Einstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning is the lifelong journey of acquiring knowledge or skills. It happens formally in schools and informally through life experiences, family and friends. In July 2015, lifelong learning was officially added as a fourth pillar of active aging to the World Health Organization’s Active Aging Policy Framework.

The Centre for Elder Research has a longstanding interest in lifelong learning and has worked on several funded research initiatives dating back to 2007. We recently completed an exploratory study for which we invited a select group of individuals to participate, as both learners and co-researchers, in 12 weekly sessions.

Participants came from very different backgrounds, were of different ages, at different stages and most did not know each other before the sessions began. Bringing together different perspectives and different experiences led to lively discussions and rich learning. Although Centre staff facilitated the sessions, they were relatively unstructured to allow the process to evolve organically.

First, the study group reviewed and discussed the literature on lifelong learning and came to a few conclusions:

  1. It is clear that engaging in learning is good for people as they age.
  2. While there are many lifelong learning opportunities available, many are formal programs that may not appeal to everyone.
  3. Older adults over the age of 75 appear to be quite neglected both in the literature and by existing lifelong learning opportunities.

The study participants decided that the major problem needing to be addressed was one of accessibility. Those aged 75+ may experience more barriers (external and internal) when it comes to actually accessing existing lifelong learning programs and many programs are not sensitive to a variety of needs, interests and learning styles.

So, study group developed a model for lifelong learning that is truly accessible for older adults of any age, including those age 75+. At its core, their model is one that is customizable, flexible and portable. As such, it can be designed to address an individual’s unique interests and needs, can accommodate a variety of learning styles and can be taken to where the learner is most comfortable, whether that be in their home or at the local library. The group believed that these features could overcome potential barriers and be inclusive for all types of learners.

This lifelong learning project was definitely a journey for the group, complete with detours, bumps and discoveries. Not only did we learn about the subject, we also learned about ourselves, each other, and group dynamics. It was interesting to see how important this subject was to the group members (who, by the way, had the best attendance records the Centre has ever seen!) and how flexible they were in their understanding of what learning is.

“A lot of what I’ve learned…” one participant explained “I didn’t think about it as learning at the time…but as part of living”. I think that sums up lifelong learning and this project quite nicely.

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Marta Owsik works as a project coordinator at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research.

Guest Blog: Dancing through life: Participation in a dance training program for community-based older adults with multiple medical comorbidities issues

By Kate Dupuis

Dance is one of the oldest art forms, with depictions of dancers dating back over 30,000 years. Even if we think that we have “two left feet”, when a favourite song comes on the radio, it is hard not to tap our toes or dance along in our seats. Throughout our lifespan, dance can help us to connect with others, express our emotions, and strengthen our bodies. Indeed, dance has many potential benefits as we age. Research has shown that, as we age, dance can benefit cognitive health (for example, improvements in memory and processing speed when remembering fancy footwork during ballroom dancing, or trying to keep up with the caller’s instructions when square dancing), physical health (increased strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance), mental well-being (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression), and social well-being (developing connections with others through dance, making new friends, getting to know the instructor). The physical benefits of dance may be particularly crucial for those older adults with mobility issues who may be at a heightened risk of falls. While many communities offer dance programs, these may not account for or provide accommodations for individuals who are experiencing multiple medical comorbidities, including mobility challenges.

At the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, we are currently conducting a research study in which community-dwelling older adults with mobility issues and at least two other medical comorbidities (e.g., high blood pressure, vision loss) are participating in 12 weeks of twice-weekly dance instruction. The sessions are led by a professionally-trained dance instructor, who has taken the time to understand each participant’s strengths and challenges, and makes specific accommodations for each of the dancers depending on their needs. We spoke with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, who said that “the decision was made to hire a professionally-trained dancer in order to capitalize on the extensive repertoire of material from her own training and performances which she can draw upon for inspiration and instruction during the sessions. In addition, professionally-trained dancers understand the biomechanics and anatomy involved in dance, which results in these teachers being able to make a wide variety of accommodations for their participants.” These accommodations are necessary and welcome for our participants.

The dance instructor, Paula Skimin, reports that she has seen remarkable improvements in the participants over the course of the program, including improvements in balance, stability, and “developing a knowledge of their skeleton and skeletal structure, which allows for more stability.” She stated that, from a social perspective, the participants have become comfortable sharing with one another, and that many have cried during class when specific songs have touched them. She has worked to “create a safe space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and to share about their past, present, and future.”

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researcher will meet with each of the participants individually to discuss their perspective on the program. Many of them have already expressed a desire to continue with their dancing. We hope that, with new evidence to support the provision of dance training for individuals with multiple medical comorbidities, we will be able to offer similar programs in the future!

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Kate Dupuis is the new Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at Sheridan College. She studies how participation in the creative and performing arts can serve to enhance the wellbeing of older adults. In particular, Kate is interested in discovering the personal characteristics of individuals who are drawn to participate in the arts, and identifying the physical, psychological, social, and systemic barriers to participation.

Guest Blog: Celebrating the accomplishments of successful individuals age 50+

 

 

By Ann Hossack and Marylou Hilliard

What do Cher, Steven Spielberg and William J. Clinton have in common? They are among the first baby boomers to turn 70 during 2017. Unlike previous generations who saw milestones such as retirement or turning 70 as indicators they were approaching the end of their life; today’s boomers are vibrant, engaged and continue to make positive contributions in their professions and to society.

According to The Globe & Mail – “The Boomer Shift – January 5, 2017, “As of this year, for the first time, Canada has more people over the age of 65 than under 15. The age group that now encompasses the boomer generation – 50 to 69 – makes up 27 per cent of the population, compared with 18 per cent in that age group two decades ago”.

This aging population is changing the fabric of society; so why is it that society is still obsessed with youth – just think about all those Top 30 under 30 and top 40 over 40 lists. Traditionally, innovation and “change-making” has primarily been recognized to be within the sphere of the young.

However, individuals who are mid-life aged and beyond represent an incredible source of talent, experience and wisdom that provides them the opportunity to make a difference in their lives and to the world. They have a desire to follow their passions, fulfill lifelong dreams and improve the future for generations to come. Moreover they are among the largest group of individuals to keep philanthropic efforts and volunteerism, which are critical to societal progress alive and well.

That’s why AGEWORKS has chosen to publicly acknowledge successful accomplishments of people aged 50+; to raise awareness for this inequity and to demonstrate that older people offer a variety of innovative solutions to an array of important societal issues.

The AGEWORKS Top 50 Over 50 Awards celebrate Canadians who know who to dream, create, contribute and achieve in many different areas. Winners will be acknowledged at the inaugural Top 50 Over 50 Awards Gala being held in Toronto in November 2017.

The recipients, and their stories, will serve as inspiration to others with a message that you’re never too old to make significant changes in your career or your life via reinvention, pursue a long-held dream or redefine what it means to be successful. These amazing stories will be publicly leveraged to help combat some of the ageism myths, like over 50 means over the hill, that still exist.

Success will be measured on a variety of criteria, including finding purpose, social change, innovation and inspiring others, by a panel of independent judges who have significant expertise and involvement within the 50+ category. Selected judges recognize the importance of these awards and will bring their objectivity and enthusiasm to this essential role.

For more information or to nominate someone go to:  http://www.ageworks.co

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Marylou Hilliard has over 25 years of advertising expertise and has earned a reputation as a brand champion. She has worked with a broad range of clients targeting an “ageing population” including the development of a new brand identity and design of several research reports for International Federation on Ageing and volunteer work for the Consumers Council of Canada and Psychologist Foundation of Canada.

Ann Hossack has held senior database marketing roles and has communicated effectively to consumer and business-to-business markets including those 50+ across a wide variety of industries. She believes that companies have yet to fully embrace this target group and is determined to promote the value of 50+ individuals as employees, entrepreneurs, volunteers or consumers.