A Cork TD has called for an information technology campaign to educate older people on how to use computers to access information and contact loved ones amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Deputy Colm Burke (FG) explained that, in the face of a global pandemic, ensuring older people can use computers has never been so important.
He explained that computer literacy ensures older people are keeping up to date with the latest information surrounding the pandemic, and that they can contact loved ones thereby reducing social isolation.
“It looks like Covid-19 is here to stay for a period of time,” said Mr Burke.
“Therefore, we must do a lot more to make sure that we can get information out to older people and that we put in place the necessary structures to help older people, and all age groups, to access information and contact loved ones.”
While some local authorities have taken it upon themselves to provide online tech support schemes for older people, Mr Burke called for a national response from a wide range of government departments.
“I think it does need a national response,” he said.
“The number of people over the age of 65 in Ireland has risen from 629,000 in 2016 to 720,000, which is an increase of 90,000 in a short space of time.
“People are living longer and may have come up in environments where access to computers was not necessary,” he added.
“Now, older people may be living on their own and they need access to information and to be able to contact their family.”
Mr Burke recalled an initiative in Bishopstown in Cork that helped an 85-year-old woman learn how to use a computer so she could email her grand-nephew in the US.
“It’s an important way of ensuring older people are not enduring social isolation,” he said.
“Many older people have been proactive throughout their life and would welcome a new challenge and learning opportunity, but we must now provide that opportunity.”
In response to a recent question on the topic from Mr Burke, Sandra Tuohy, assistant national director of Operations Services for Older People explained that a number of local authorities are rolling out the Acorn Age-Friendly Tablet as a means of improving IT literacy amongst older people.
“Local authorities are also driving IT learning sessions for older people through their Age Friendly Programme,” she said.
There are a small number of projects in the HSE, one in Sligo for example being run through the Psychiatry of Later Life service that is testing the use of Amazon Alexa Smart Assistant devices with older people with mental health issues as a means of staying connected and this is in partnership with Amazon.
“The HSE also partnered with many other stakeholders, including singer Niall Horan, who pledged €100,000 towards the purchase cost of electronic devices for long-stay nursing home residents, with the HSE funding the connectivity of these devices through partnership with Vodafone and Avaie,” she added.