Tablets, training and tech support: helping low-income seniors stay connected

Elderly man holding a tablet

A tablet, Internet access and a little technical support. It’s a simple combination, but one that is making a big difference to seniors who have been cut off from friends, family and activities during the pandemic.

“Getting them [low-income seniors] connected so they can contact their doctors, contact their families or banks, is really important to us,” said Joseph Silva, director of strategies and partnerships, community health and services with York Region. “They have been more isolated than a lot of seniors.”

In May 2020, the CMA Foundation pledged an unprecedented $10 million to help community recovery and stabilization efforts, through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations. Learn more.

In Ontario’s York Region, the $60,500 allocated through the COVID-19 Community Response Fund for Vulnerable Populations is targeting low-income seniors living in community housing.  This fall, 31 seniors had tablets delivered to their door and technical support offered via video or phone.

“Ideally it would be great to send someone to their home and set it all up, but we’ve had to do it all virtually. It has required a lot more hours of support,” explained Silva. By March 2021, the program aims to enroll around 100 seniors.

“I was so intimidated by technology because I grew up in a time where we didn’t have it and I thought I would never learn … it’s amazing.” – Senior client

Helping seniors cope with loneliness addresses a critical need, Silva said. Social and physical distancing rules have led to the suspension of nearly all in-home services for seniors, putting them at risk of further isolation and deteriorating mental health.

“We appreciate the partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the CMA Foundation and just their willingness to consider some of these emerging needs,” he said.

He believes the program should be expanded in the future to help more seniors.

There is no going back, he added.

“Technology is so important to keep people connected, reduce isolation and help with well-being,” he said. “The seniors are so proud of themselves for being able to use this technology.”

Thanks to the program, seniors can have virtual consults with a doctor, or renew a prescription with a pharmacist. But it isn’t just for connecting seniors with health care providers or family members. It’s a way to connect seniors to each other, too.

“I was so lonely at the start of this pandemic because I couldn’t see my family. With this tablet I can call them and see their faces and it has made me much happier.” – Senior client

The program — delivered by Human Endeavour, a Vaughan-based non-profit organization focused on improving socioeconomic and living conditions — includes games and fitness activities as a complement to the technical support. The wellness program offers more than 10 sessions to seniors weekly.

The success of the program will be measured through a survey examining three questions: whether seniors have improved access to health and community services, whether they contacted family and friends more frequently and whether they reported improved well-being.

Silva said connecting seniors to technology builds confidence.

“It’s not just dealing with the emergent issues now, like social isolation. It’s about the legacy we leave behind with the project.”

About the author(s)

The CMA Foundation staff

Originally established in 2005, the CMA Foundation is a registered charity, designated as a private foundation, whose sole member is the Canadian Medical Association. Its purpose is to provide impactful charitable giving to registered Canadian charities and qualified donees to further excellence in health care.

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