How digital technology has made this pandemic a unique one: focusing on the well-being of older adults living in isolation
Member post by Awlad Hussain, MBBS, MPH, Health Informatics, Ryerson University
The current pandemic is reshaping our world, life, attitude, and everything. We are experiencing a lot of unprecedented events because of this particular SARS-CoV-2 virus outbreak. More than half of the world’s population (1) has experienced any means of “lockdown” and every single person is suffering physically and/or mentally for the economic and social disruption. Till now, this pandemic has taken 2.4 million lives already (2), although is not the deadliest one in history. For example, Black Death or Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu, and Smallpox were much more terrible than the COVID-19 (3). If death toll of the 14th century’s Black Death were the size of a basketball, then death toll of today’s COVID-19 pandemic would be smaller than a tennis ball on a comparative scale (4). But our response to the outbreak is remarkable this time.
With the advent of technologies and scientific mastery, it becomes possible to identify and sequence the virus in a short time, decisions were taken fast, outbreaks were tracked efficiently, and preventive measures were taken earlier (5). The urge to tackle this pandemic is in everyone all over the world. Most importantly, scientists have created the fastest vaccine in history to fight this virus (6) and already we have started taking it.
Almost everywhere in the world, people embraced technology more than ever in response to this pandemic. Technology is playing the lead role to get connected socially while maintaining the “physical distance”. Temporary digital strategies are found helpful and promising in every sector. Education and work from home are the new normal, so is virtual health care, in every group of people. Older people are at more risk of COVID-19 but technology has brought light to them. During the pandemic, seniors are taking technology and telemedicine services at a rapid pace (7,8).
Recently I had the opportunity to support a group of seniors living in isolation as a result of the pandemic, and it caused me to reflect on how physical isolation affects older people, and how technology is helping.
Seniors are adopting technology solutions to stay connected, to receive healthcare, to get medical and psychological support, and even to do any means of work staying in isolation. While conducting a virtual workshop with seniors on tech issues, I found them very interested and welcoming on utilizing the internet and devices. They were curious about several features of social media and eager to use more, to stay connected more. They took advantage of using tips and tricks for complex issues like maintaining security and privacy, strong password protection, and alert for misinformation, etc. Smartphones and Tablets are popular devices among seniors and some also preferred a Laptop computer to use. Most seniors are very comfortable connecting by a zoom call or any other video call. Seeing their enthusiasm for using gadgets is a wonderful experience for me. I am grateful to Digital Health Connections in Achev and Digital Health Canada network for helping me to get engaged to TechServeTO and UHN OpenLab. These organizations allowed me to serve seniors closely in this crucial time.
However, I observed some seniors’ concerns about using the internet. Some expressed their mistrust regarding financial issues. One of them was not willing to open any Facebook/Twitter account because he was worried that there might be some hidden charge to pay. Besides, everyone urged to use the internet in a more simplified way.
New technologies have made it easier to stay in touch with and deliver care to people who are isolated due to lockdown. These new technology approaches might be the new normal to serve people, especially older adults, even after this pandemic ends. It seems very promising the way older adults are grabbing modern technology.
Designing a simpler “older-adult version” of any app for banking, social networking, shopping and healthcare, etc would be more effective for them.
And, the latest devices and gadgets must be available and affordable to seniors to create a sustainable digital arena for them.
- Sandford A. Coronavirus: Half of humanity on lockdown in 90 countries [Internet]. euronews. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-in-europe-spain-s-death-toll-hits-10-000-after-record-950-new-deaths-in-24-hou
- Coronavirus Update (Live): 110,904,930 Cases and 2,454,115 Deaths from COVID-19 Virus Pandemic – Worldometer [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
- Worst Pandemics in Global History – What We Can Learn From Them? [Internet]. Public Health. [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.publichealthonline.org/worst-global-pandemics-in-history/
- LePan N. Visualizing the History of Pandemics [Internet]. Visual Capitalist. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/
- Behrmann O, Spiegel M. COVID-19: from rapid genome sequencing to fast decisions. Lancet Infect Dis. 2020 Nov 1;20(11):1218.
- The fastest vaccine in history [Internet]. https://connect.uclahealth.org/. [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://connect.uclahealth.org/2020/12/10/the-fastest-vaccine-in-history/
- Excellence (NCE) A-WN of C of. COVID-19 has significantly increased the use of many technologies among older Canadians: poll [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/covid-19-has-significantly-increased-the-use-of-many-technologies-among-older-canadians-poll-865959030.html
- Survey shows seniors are embracing technology and telehealth during pandemic [Internet]. MobiHealthNews. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.mobihealthnews.com/news/survey-shows-seniors-are-embracing-technology-and-telehealth-during-pandemic