Social networks and online discussion forums can be used to engage in social contact with people everywhere, regardless of their age or state of health. The opportunity to maintain social relationships is especially important for the elderly and when done extensively is one of the key elements of aging well. However, many older adults in Europe are not spending their time online, let alone using social networks. For example, in the UK only 33% of adults aged 75 years and over had ever used the Internet. In the same country, Ofcom (Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) estimates that while 92% of online 16-24 year olds have created a profile on a social networking site, only 25% of online adults over 65 have done the same.
So why don’t the elderly engage in social networks? It is due only to the attitudes and perceptions that they have about these networks (e.g. “I am too old” and “It is too complicated”) or do actual existing barriers (e.g. related to declining health or a lack of resources) keep them at bay? This is a difficult question to answer and more research needs to be done into the real causes, and how these barriers can be removed.
In this article we will tackle the possibilities that social media and online discussion forums can offer to the elderly and how they can actively engage in social networking.

Connect with others, keep in touch and feel empowered

One benefit of social media for the elderly population is the possibility to keep in touch with friends and family through yet another medium, and one that is increasingly popular. Another benefit is that they can join groups and discussions with others interested in the same topics and hobbies. More importantly, they can share their problems with others, from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Author Anja K. Leist  summarises well the disinhibiting effect of online communities: in revealing otherwise painful or embarrassing information, self-disclosure is perceived easier via ICT than via eye-to-eye contact. Social media can, when used effectively, provide older adults with empowerment- a concept that refers to a global sense of connectedness and increased control and self-efficacy. It is interesting to point out that the benefit of empowerment is not limited to the elderly person, but also extends to others around e.g. the formal and informal care-givers. In a study investigating an online forum of care-givers, the number of messages posted per week reduced the negative feelings of strain in the care-giver and improved well-being for both care-giver and patient.

What about the dangers?

Not much is known about potentially negative consequences of social media use of older adults although the subject has been well studied in reference to children and teenagers. It is clear that negative outcomes need to be communicated as well if one wants the elderly person to use social media in a responsible and safe way. One threat that is always present is the misuse of personal information with criminal intent e.g. uploading holiday pictures after providing information on the home address could lead to a theft in one0s home.  Not so common but still plausible is the threat from identity theft (as it is relatively easy on some networks to set up a fake account in the name of someone else). Cyberbulling could also be a threat in the future. These issues can be eased by providing the elderly with clear information on how to deal with personal data online. This information is best provided by a family member or e-facilitator who knows how to handle privacy settings on a given network.

Some ideas

To get the most out of social media, one needs to be active on the sites. A family member, a care-giver or a facilitator can be the right person to explain concepts such as photo uploading, content sharing and similar. The older person who starts using the network will only feel empowered if they know how to find a friend, contribute to a discussion, upload media content and share this content on their profiles. There are also available specific guides on social media for the elderly.
Communication on social networks and the benefits of joining should always address the perceived attitudes among the elderly, and come up with solutions to overcome actual barriers. An excellent starting point is the home environment: using the knowledge of the informal and formal caregivers or persons who visit the elderly regularly. Another resource is the local telecentre or library where an e-facilitator is aware of the issues at hand and can help the elderly get connected onto social media sites and extend their networks.
Let us not forget that social networking sites themselves need to be more inclusive. Barriers need to be researched better so that developers can adapt their usability and user friendliness. For example, older users could be made more comfortable using social networks if privacy settings are closed-off by default, so that their information is not automatically broadcasted.

Conclusions

Social networks may play a key role in getting the elderly to enjoy the benefits of digital empowerment. Social networks alone cannot fulfill the important need for social  contact but are a valid and increasingly used tool to complement other ways of social interaction. In order to get older people to use social networks family members, care-givers, community facilitators and trainers should step in and provide assistance. In the same time design and user friendliness need to be addressed by social network developers.

References

Social Media Use of Older Adults: A Mini-Review
Author: Anja K. Leist
Found on web: November, 6 2013

Adults media use and attitudes report
Author: Ofcom
Published: April 2013
Found on web: November, 6 2013

Silver surfers forgotten in social media boom
Author: Chris Norval, The Conversation
Published: Sep 18, 2013
Found on web: November, 7 2013

Author: Masha Tarle

The careNET consortium is happy to announce that based on a careful analysis, the Map of domains for common and specific digital competences for domiciliary care workers and care recipients aged 65+ years is now publicly available. The result of an analysis and description is to be published after collaborative exercises in the development process in two workshops, respectively outlining the methodological bottom up approach in relation to study the common and specific competences for the two target groups and elaborating on the map of domains of competence working with grouping and wording of the areas of competences.

The digital competences are defined by an analysis of ‘day-to-day’ activities in real context of work and life, against a background of affordances of available technology. The identified competences are described in the Map of domains of competence. Data has been collected in the careNET partnership, respectively in France, United  Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Spain, Denmark and Hungary to provide the content for the descriptions of the competence areas and interrelated competences in the Map of domains of competence. A survey with self-administered questionnaires has provided quantitative data from 130 care recipients’ and 108 care worker in domiciliary about their use of computer, the Internet and mobile phones for analysis concerning common digital competences. Focus group interviews and individual interviews have provided qualitative data from 27 older people and 20 care workers as first movers for analysis regarding specific digital competences for both target groups. In relation to the identification of  the Foundational Competences, the research on Digital Competence from the DIGCOMP project (Ferrari, 2012)  at the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Joint Research Centre has been used initially in relation to define areas the common competences. In the analysis of the data in the CareNET project there has been elaborated collaboratively in the partnership on grouping and wording the common and specific areas of competence for care recipients and care workers. The analysis of the data are validated in reviews from national stakeholders i.e. associations active in the field or experts.

The common digital competences for care recipients and care workers are the foundational areas of competence:
1.      Technological orientation,
2.      Information seeking and management,
3.      Communication, collaboration and participation,
4.      Creation of content and knowledge,
5.      Privacy and security
6.      Informed decision making and problem-solving.

The specific digital competences for the care recipients are the day-to-day areas of competences:
1.      Online transactions,
2.      Social connections,
3.      Wellbeing,
4.      Leisure,
5.      Community participation
6.      Self-expression.

The specific digital competences for the care workers are the vocational areas of competence:
1.      Care management and administration,
2.      Peer learning,
3.      Employability,
4.      Enabling the ICT use by others.

The Map of domains of competence is used in the careNET project to the design and develop learning paths and resources for the identified ICT competences for care recipients and care workers. These are tested in the pilot phase in Spain and France as the validation of the work.

The full report will be available publicly on the careNET project’s website.

Reference:
Ferrari, Anusca (2012): Digital Competence in Practice: An Analysis of Frameworks. JRC Technical Reports. Report EUR25351 EN

The CARER+ consortium finished its research for its Carer+ Digital Competence Framework. The purpose of a competence framework is to give a clear, systematic picture of what knowledge, skills and attitudes will make a person competent in certain area of work or study. The CARER+ Digital Competence Framework will provide care workers and caregivers with a reference tool that will help them assess their digital competence and plan their further development in an organised and outcome-oriented way. Using the framework, the caregiver will be able to tell what knowledge and skills he/she currently possesses, on what levels of mastery, and where best to aim further learning. Schools, teachers and trainer can make good use of the framework as well by structuring and facilitating their courses’ plans and objectives. It can also help employers to plan their staff’s professional development.

The Executive Summary of the publication is available now.

ageing-with-tablets-article-250pxlSeveral experiments assess the introduction of new information technology in seniors’ daily life. As the Austrian project “MyTablet” or the Georgian service of the Blue Hair Technology Group, CareNET decided to experiment tablets offering a training support as prerequisite to develop its numerous uses.

These projects identify tablet as the appropriate device to introduce new technology to seniors. The easy use of tablets is the first argument for this choice. The touch screens are considered as an intuitive interface that people at every age can handle, especially older people who may live with challenges. The tablet is adapted to frail people as an easy tool to use. These also have wireless access to the Internet everywhere, with broadband support. A third quality is the visual appearance of tablets that distinguishes them from computers.

While he device appears elderly-friendly, it requires a support when introduced in older people’s life. Older people may first be frightened by this technology. The existence of experiments refers indeed to seniors’ needs of tutoring and learning to use tablets. To teach older people the Blue Hair Technology Group offers classes lasting an hour and half and online training videos like “Check out the weather on your Kindle Fire“. The MyTablet project proposes a lesson of two hours on the use of the tablet and a contact person for their questions and needs during the project’s lifetime.

Thanks to this support, seniors are empowered to incorporate technology to their daily life. Tablets mainly allow them to have a mobile connection to the Internet. They can contact their families and friends online through several applications like FaceTime, Skype and e-mail accounts. They may also change habits in their hobbies online like reading books  thanks to adjustable font size. The CareNET Map of competences identifies some other benefits of tablets like self-expression, online transactions or well-being.

To support your relatives on how to use a tablet, read the UK Older People’s Day instructions: Get older people using iPads & Apps!

References :
Enhancing the Social Inclusion of Seniors by Using Tablets as a Main Gateway to the World Wide Web
Seniors Learn to Use Tablets in Georgia — TechSoup Local Impact Map Profile
Get older people using iPads & Apps
Author: Laure Lhermet

Studies show that the online activities of the elderly suggest that they do more or less the same online as most other age groups – that is, communication and searching for  information as well as using online services. E-mailing and keeping in touch with their children are the main reasons why many seniors started to learn using computers.
However, these studies also show, that many elderly people resist technology through the lack of security associated with the web, and they are very concerned about unpleasant experiences. Another very common fear is that a computer and the internet is just “too difficult”.

Finerday is a solution developed as a free, safe, easy to use, online communication web service for families to keep in touch with each other. It has been designed to look as cool to a ten-year-old as it is easy and intuitive to use for a ninety-five-year old. At the same time Finerday.com can be an inspiration of nurses and care workers who wanted the recipients to be more connected to their families, especially the grandchildren.

This social network allows you to share photos, send and receive messages, see special dates for birthdays and anniversaries, write and share memories and even use simple links to useful websites, at the touch of a button. The first steps are supported by several instructional videos, and all the buttons and texts are presented in large and contrasted make them easy to use for old people as well.

This secure platform has been successfully piloted in care homes and is being used by several leading digital inclusion organisation in the UK and Australia.

Sources:
http://www.w3.org/TR/wai-age-literature/#how
http://www.onefinerday.com/

Author: Barbara Lázár

MobileThe use of mobile phone may pose problems for the elderly, but also can, significantly, improve their quality of life. Therefore “Fundación Alzheimer España” conducted a study that provides some indications that may help to choose the most suitable mobile phone for seniors. The mobile phone, according to their study, offers important advantages for the elderly such as:

  • The ability to automatically call someone if they have a problem.
  • The safety that the mobile transmits to them when they are moving alone.
  • The feeling of being safe if they are alone.

Given that they may have impaired vision it is very useful if the size of the phone is “large” in order to grasp it easily, with bright colours, but not flashy, that can be easily located and visible. A good example of this kind of mobile phone could be a white casing, with black buttons and white numbers. The screen should have high contrast combining white and black with large text size. Is desirable the buttons to be large and spaced and with some relief to differentiate better.

Since older people, sometimes, have difficulties to hear properly it should be possible to adjust the volume of incoming calls and the phone’s handset to their needs. The terminal must support the headset, so that the sound is not fitted.

It is interesting to be able to remove or block Internet services (video calls, etc) if the senior does not want to use, in order to avoid misleading. An excessive number of applications, such as games or graphics, may cause rejection of the person who may consider working with the phone too complicated and unattractive. Other applications could be useful like calendars, camera or  access to theirIt is also advisable devices with a battery that lasts longer than usual and with the possibility of incorporating a loudspeaker favourite newspapers.

Author: Jana Arribas Fontaneda

Social media offer workers new environments to exchange, get informed and connected: professional networks. Each professional network is characterized by its organisation and the services proposed to its members. Although several types of professional network appeared online all are fostering the professionalisation of workers.

Online professional networks may gather together workers from a particular sector and a specific work. Workers may express their needs, their issues and their challenges thanks to a private environment gathering peers. In this way they share a professional interest with the members of the network unlike less exclusive social networks.

Besides the professional network is a way to promote the careers and the businesses of its members through blogs or personal pages. They air not only their issues but also their results and successes. Businessmen and women may advertise their enterprises and workers may promote their curriculum vitae. In this way the network become a tool to reach customers and employers.

Another service of the professional network is peer recognition. The network further facilitates the exchanges of contacts and the recommendations between members. Thanks to your membership your contacts may also increase the value of your e-Portfolio by adding comments or validating your competences.

The professional network could also become an environment to promote vocational training. For instance in Cornwall the network for women entrepreneurs Leading women UK  organise free training workshops for their members on a monthly basis. The network target topics to support the working life of their members and made the booking of workshops available online.

The professional network is not necessarily based on virtual connections. For instance the French professional network Work’n’meet suggest its members meeting during a lunch. The creators of the website identify the lunch as the traditional moment to negotiate future professional contracts. They thus recall the first function of a professional network: the employment.

Sources :
http://www.presse-citron.net/worknmeet-le-reseau-social-professionnel-qui-commence-par-un-dejeuner
http://www.martindale.com/members/Article_Atachment.aspx?od=&id=503518&filename=asr-503520.pdf
http://www.leadingwomenuk.com/about/
http://www.connectingwomen.co.uk/about_connect.php

Author: Laure Lhermet

The Sus-IT project ran from 2009 until 2012 with the aim of helping older people to use information technologies for a better and more independent future. During the life of the project, the barriers to the sustained and effective use of ICTs by older people were investigated and  a range of solutions that combined both technology and social context were explored. In brief the project was able to:

  • Produce a conceptual model of the risks to sustaining digital engagement for older people;
  • Develop an innovative suite of tools, methods and guidance for working with older people in research and design of ICT-based products and services;
  • Formulate an ‘adaptivity framework’ to develop prototype software that helps to address problems encountered by people experiencing age-related changes in vision, dexterity and;
  • Produce a user-generated strategy for provision of sustainable, community-based ICT learning and support for older people.

Arguably one of the most engaging outputs has been the production of a design catalogue of 40 product concepts aimed at the ICT industry to stimulate new product development for the older market. These 40 design concepts were generated during four group ‘sandpit’ session strands, each carried out in close collaboration with older people. They covered the areas of: A custom computer for older people; Supporting memory and identity in later life; Combating social isolation; iPad apps for older people. The concepts show an intriguing mix of familiar objects with more advanced technological functions. In one such design, an everyday telephone becomes a ‘Photo phone’. Here, the standard functionalities of a telephone are preserved and augmented by the ability of the user to add electronic photos and then also share them with a caller. The idea behind this concept was stimulated by a desire to find social technical solutions to combating isolation and loneliness.

What further strengthens this approach is the nature of the methodology. By embarking on a process of participatory co-design the concepts encapsulate the authentic voices of the older people who are, after all, the intended end-users of these potential prototypes. This is a compelling message to send to companies building ICT products and also an empowering experience as older people become co-designers of their own tools and services.

References:
Frolich, D., Lim, C., Woods, S. and Amr,  A. (2012). What older people want: A catalogue of co-designed ICT concepts. University of Surrey: UK.

Authors: Steven Warburton

How about having care workers use ICT tools to enhance their employability? It sounds like a great opportunity to combat social exclusion and focus on professional development.

The creation of an e-portfolio would add value to their professionalism by underlining and making visible evidence of their knowledge, experience and skills. It is widely known that the sector of social and care workers is often not treated with deserved acknowledgement, because of the large number unskilled employees. The question we ask here is: could the creation of an ePorfolio be a perfect motivation for them to seek opportunities for educational and professional enhancement? In broad sectoral terms, it would be a great benefit for care workers in order to abolish some the perceived issues surrounding professionalism in the social care work arena.

An e-portfolio is a portable, electronic database, where the user collects and organises text, audio, graphic and video files that provide evidence of their knowledge, skills and training. It is basically a personalised space on the web, easily accessible and sharable, for example with future employers.

There are several benefits that stem from the development of an e-portfolio. It enables a care worker to store and organise their learning and assessment evidence and can significantly enhance their chances of getting a job in the Health & Social Care or Nursing sectors. What is important about an e-portfolio is to use it effectively in order to promote your professionalism. For example, a care worker could represent excerpts from paid experience and jobs , any voluntary work relevant to the care and social sector such as telephone councelling or voluntary work in a care home. It is also good idea to include any memberships to professional organisations and extra curricullar activities, which can give a unique insight into the carer’s personality. In order to give ad value, recommendations from others – both colleagues and employers – can be included. It is especially relevant for care workers that an e-portfolio represents them as an individual with a supportive, considerate and respectful character, regardless of the background.

One of the most well-known applications for electronic portfolio is Mahara, which is an open source system with a range of features and the added advantage that it links closely with the popular virtual learning environment Moodle. Other systems include Folio for me, a free e-portfolio, and PebblePad, which provides a learning space as well portfolio area. Although not classified as an ePortfolio tool the social media site LinkedIn could also be considered as an effective tool for building one’s professional identity through networking and connecting with professionals in the field.

Care workers deserve to upgrade their professional status and with digital tools readily now available the e-portfolio represents the perfect platform.

Further reading:
JISC report 2012. ePortfolios – an overview. Online at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/eportfolios.aspx

Authors: Theofili Smprini