The internet provides people around the world with unprecedented access to information, yet not everyone can benefit from it. Many people face barriers to access and for B.C. seniors, the barrier is often a lack of technical experience and knowledge. (1)
Seniors who do not access the internet miss out on a quick and convenient way to research financial or medical topics, use banking or credit services, shop for clothes or household goods, order groceries, or apply for benefits. Commercial uses aside, they cannot connect to friends or family through social media or email. In 2016, a Michigan State University study found that “social technology use predicted lower levels of loneliness, which in turn predicted better mental and physical health. Participants who used some technology. . . were more satisfied with life and had fewer depressive symptoms.” (2)
Vi Sorenson, Executive Director of Seniors Outreach Services Society (SOSS), decided to try and find a solution to this information and technology gap. She applied for an Aging Well grant from BC Healthy Communities Society (BCHC). An initiative of BCHC and the Government of British Columbia, Aging Well provides materials, facilitation and funding for communities to assist seniors, and people who are soon to retire, plan for a healthy, independent future.
In addition to the grant, she was offered a workshop facilitated by BCHC that covered five key areas -- housing, transportation, finances, social connectedness, and physical and mental health -- and helps older people and their caregivers improve the aging journey. One participant said they learned to, “create a plan to address key issues I may face in the future.” Another reflected that they will, “improve my lifestyle or living conditions so I can age well.”
With the funding, SOSS also created an information package called Elderguide. SOSS held two focus groups with over 30 seniors to identify what topics seniors wanted covered. Feedback gathered from the focus group resulted in over 300 attendees at the annual Seniors Safety Fair. By consulting with seniors and providing information in both print and online formats, SOSS is helping to bridge the information gap.
Sorenson said, “we mentor seniors in technology, but being able to search easily and efficiently for what they want is not always easy; others do not use the internet at all and are being left out of the abundance of information that is readily available. Many of our clients experience some form of isolation, and one result is that they experience barriers to accessing information that affects them directly, like planning for their future. Having current information on the various aspects of Aging Well is important and useful to seniors who are already older, and gets younger seniors thinking about what is important for them as they age.”
Elderguide contains information on healthcare, government agencies, legal issues, education, transportation, housing, recreation, activities and support groups. Contacts are provided for every listing, and volunteers verify and update information on an ongoing basis. The guide is available online at www.eldernet.ca and at the SOSS Kelowna office (115-2065 Benvoulin Court Kelowna).
1 – Aging Well Final Report