SOCIETY. Whether they live in an apartment or in a residential centre, older people can suffer from social exclusion. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can enable them to make contact with the outside world. However, the topic has been little studied. This is what prompted freelance journalist Eugénie Emond to pursue her master’s thesis in gerontology, which she presented last June.
“Social isolation is a public health issue. […] This has been proven to increase the risk of contracting certain diseases,” explains citizen Saint-Antoine-de-Tillie.
Her results showed that by pairing 5 young people aged between 18 and 30 and 5 older people, this technology allowed “to build a meaningful relationship” between a young person and an older person who is not a parent. He also contributed to the exchange of views and discussions on various topics.
“I was surprised there are some who have developed a great intimacy and was surprised to get along so well with an older person. Others had prejudices, and they thought that a person would rely on his opinion, in particular on the issue of the environment, but this was not so.
The context also helped young people understand the consequences of social exclusion and the importance of overcoming it. “When you talk to someone who lives in a home that lost five siblings in the same year and feel the loneliness they feel, you see the problem face to face,” illustrates Ms Emond .
Also, using a tablet or computer becomes a facilitator. A virtual meeting is more suited to the lifestyle of young people, says Eugénie Emond. On the part of the elders, it establishes a certain distance between the participants and allows preparation for a face-to-face meeting. Moreover, some expressed a desire to make contact outside the academic context.
In her research, she wondered what role ICTs could play in breaking this isolation and building intergenerational bridges.
So she picked five couples, consisting of an older and a younger man, aged between 18 and 30 years old. The duos came from Quebec, Levy and MRC de Lotbinière and lived in their own apartment or residential center. Ms. Emond invited them to have an hour-long discussion via videoconference (Skype). Topics for conversations were free and they took place in 2019.
The health crisis that began a few months later showed the relevance of dwelling on this issue. “Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of implementing various virtual events to promote social connections, mutual aid and well-being,” Eugénie Emond said in her memoir.
She recalls that it was the elderly in the DShMO and RPA who were the most vulnerable to social exclusion.
Tablets were distributed in some of these centers when they were closed to the public. However, as she also noted in her study, the leaders of these institutions found that there were barriers to using these tools. “We need someone to explain how it works, someone to hold the tablet if the older one has motor problems. However, once the technology is established, the dialogue takes place.”
Eugénie Emond sees the benefits of using ICT for civil society organizations that care for the elderly.
“Carrefour des personnes aînées de Lotbinière participated, which would certainly be interested in implementing online projects. This work shows that this is possible. […] This is not difficult. Not to mention that it completely destroys the isolation, I have seen, especially in lonely people, how they were encouraged by the meeting. Even if it’s not for long, it’s already a lot.
Due to the small sample size of 10 participants, five young adults, and five older adults, it is difficult to apply the results to the entire older population. However, in her opinion, it can give food for thought.
“We could try it with isolated people, people with cognitive impairments and see how they do. It shouldn’t be limited to just suiting people.” Despite some difficulties, these elders are able to maintain a relationship.