Seniors face problems in telehealth and social alienation

Seniors face problems in telehealth and social alienation

Zoom and FaceTime social meetings. Online orders from supermarkets and pharmacies. Physicians with telehealth consultations.

They became lifesavers for many elderly people who remained at home during the coronavirus pandemic. But there is a downside to an unprecedented shift to virtual interactions: a large number of seniors are unable to participate.

Among them are older adults with dementia (14 percent of those 71 and older), hearing loss (nearly two thirds of those 70 and older) and impaired vision (13.5 percent of those 65 and older) who may have a hard time accessing automated tools and services designed without their needs in mind. (Think about small icons, difficult-to-read typefaces, poor captioning between hurdles.)

Seniors and Telehealth

Many older adults with limited financial resources may also not be able to afford devices or associated internet service charges. (Half of the elderly living alone and 23 per cent of those living in two-person households are unable to afford basic necessities.) Others are not adept at using technology and lack learning assistance.

During the pandemic that has hit older adults particularly hard, this gap between “have” and “have-not” technology has serious consequences.

Older people in the “have” community have greater access to mobile media networks and telehealth facilities and more ways to purchase critical resources online. Meanwhile, “have-nots” are at greater risk of social alienation, of neglecting medical services and of being without food or other essential things.

Dr. Charlotte Yeh, Chief Medical Officer of AARP Services, has seen technology-related difficulties this year in trying to teach her 92-year-old father remotely how to use an iPhone. She lives in Boston, her father lives in Pittsburgh.

Yeh’s mother had always been in contact with the couple. But she was in a nursing home after being hospitalized for pneumonia. The home had closed to visitors due to the pandemic. In order to talk to her and other family members, Yeh’s father had to resort to technology.

Yet multiple conditions have gotten in the way. Yeh ‘s father is blind in one eye. With a serious hearing impairment and a cochlear implant. And he has had difficulty hearing conversations over the iPhone. And it was harder than Yeh expected to find an easy-to-use iPhone app that accurately translates speech into captions.

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