The Covid crisis19 and the containment that has been put in place have led to greater isolation for those who do not use the new technologies.
Those who are not “connected” have been even more alone during this period. These include elderly people living alone and those living in nursing homes. In France, 27% of the over-60s are excluded from the digital world. This divide was highlighted in a report published by Petits Frères des Pauvres in 2018 (1). This report warns of the digital exclusion from which older people in particular suffer, especially single elderly people, and which has the effect of increasing their isolation from the rest of society, in addition to distancing them from access to their fundamental rights.
The Covid-19 crisis has shed light on the digital divide because, at the same time, the Internet has made it possible for many employees to telework, for younger people to continue studying, and for most of the population to communicate.
The current crisis shows that digital tools, sources of fracture and isolation when they are not accessible or mastered, can on the contrary “save lives” by enabling people to stay connected to the outside world… Total disconnection can kill! The very significant increase in the “sliding syndrome” observed in nursing homes after only a few days of individual confinement in rooms is a flagrant demonstration of what the association’s volunteers and employees are well aware of: social ties are part of vital needs. It is important to know that when the sliding syndrome may be fatal to the elderly in 85% of cases. (2)
It was all the more important for the associations of the International Federation of Petits Freres des Pauvres to be able to put in place alternative means to keep in touch with the elderly, such as sending regular letters to people (1,700 letters sent each week in Quebec) and telephone calls once or twice a week. In addition, volunteers in all countries have become aware of the need to train seniors in the use of new technologies.
The need to equip nursing homes with tablets quickly became apparent, as well as the need for elderly people who were totally isolated at home. Several companies and even local authorities have made donations for the acquisition of tablets, or have donated them directly. For example, the city of Boston has provided Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly Boston Chapter with 100 tablets with prepaid subscription for a period of 3 months.
Despite lockdown measures and restrictions, the employees and volunteers of all the associations of the Petits Freres des Pauvres international network have been able to adapt in order to maintain the links with the outside world for the isolated elderly they serve.
This crisis has thus revealed the importance of social ties, solidarity and attention to others. Using Internet or other modern means of communication can seem difficult and stressful, especially if one is not used to it. But nowadays it is becoming a necessity for everyone. There is a need for training in even basic use of these tools, with the help in particular of volunteers from our associations. This crisis will also have shown that modern communication tools must be deployed in hospitals and nursing homes and that people at home should be helped to equip themselves…
The use of new technologies has a positive effect for the people accompanied by Amigos de los Mayores-Mexico.
In Mexico, the Secretariat of Tourism and Culture of the State of Morelos was aware that problems related to isolation existed before and that they were aggravated by the lockdown. Therefore, it proposed to the elderly served by the oraganization Amigos de los Mayores – México in Cuernavaca (San Agustin house) a workshop called “Spirit in Motion”. The goal of this workshop is to reduce social isolation and to allow active aging. The workshop was led by a psychologist Yahaira Jasso Méndez.
The main challenge in conducting this workshop was the use of new technologies. These new technologies are useful means to fight social isolation and, at the same time, to protect everyone from the pandemic.
Here is the testimony of psychologist Yahaira Jasso Méndez:
“By facilitating this workshop, I saw myself working for the first time through social networks and it was a great experience, thanks to the enthusiasm that each of the participants showed. From the beginning, I could see that most of the time the abilities of older people are underestimated, but there is no doubt that they have demonstrated all the potential they have in themselves, by presenting manual work that were becoming more and more accomplished. Their way of facing a difficulty was surprising, until they came up with a solution to do an excellent job. »
This experience will continue during the pandemic. The goal is to make it more bearable for older people to stay at home and change their routine by offering them activities they can do at home, remotely. These exercises promote active and healthy aging, according to the director of Amigos de los Mayores – México.
(2) Amelie Wallyn, occupational therapist for people with Alzheimer’s disease www.autonome-a-domicile.com/syndrome-de-glissement/