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Improving digital skills in older people

Posted on 10/08/2017

Many older people lack digital skills and run the risk of ‘missing out’ as more and more services are taken online. It’s not always easy to access and learn new skills, but there are a lot of campaigns and initiatives around the UK that have been set up to help older people to get to grips with the internet, emailing and social media. According to information from the Learning and Work Institute, 6.4 million adults in the UK have never used the internet, with over 65s making up three quarters of this group.

There are advantages to having an understanding of the digital age. For example, there are social networks that are aimed at older people to meet those with similar hobbies and interests, which can be a lifeline for those who are experiencing loneliness in later life. Silversurfers is one example of these networks.

It also helps people to stay in contact with family who might not live locally. Online voice call services, such as Skype, are free to use when calling from digital device to digital device, saving money and adding a video element to phone calls that can make the experience more immersive. Having access to email and the internet also means that things like photos and video clips can be shared easily, again helping older people to feel more involved in their families’ lives from afar.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have dedicated apps for older people that can help them to organise tasks, set reminders and call for help if needed, among many other services. It can also be a reassurance to family members that an older person, particularly someone living alone, can have a mobile phone to hand in case of emergencies. Having internet access can also help with things like the shopping – by learning how to order online, shopping can be delivered to the door, making it an easier task for many with mobility issues.

Getting online in the first place can seem overwhelming and there is a lot to take in. Luckily there are a number of initiatives that are designed to help older people get to grips with the internet in a way that works for them. Age UK is involved in a programme called One Digital, which is designed to introduce and improve digital skills. Digital Champions work one on one with service users to help them understand digital technology. The programme has just been awarded an additional £4 million in National Lottery funding to help roll the programme out to more people. There is a search engine on the Age UK website to enable you to search whether there is a computer training course nearby. 

Another good place to try is the local library, as many of these will offer digital skills and computer workshops for free. This is a good environment to learn in with trained helpers and other people in the same situation to talk to. Libraries often have computers that can be used by their members, so that you are able to practise your skills in the future. Otherwise, a family member or friend may be able to help teach the basics.

There is plenty of technology available for older people specifically. For example, there are smartphones that are well suited to those who are new to technology with large screens, easy buttons and other features. The Doro range of phones are designed for older people and are Hearing Aid Compatible, have step-by-step tutorials to get started, there is an emergency assistance button with easy access on the case and an intuitive interface to make it easier to understand from the outset.

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