The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed so many aspects of our lives but perhaps one of the most significant shifts has been in our use and reliance upon technology. Very few escaped this digital transformation as technology became our window onto and into the world. And care homes, which have so often felt like the final frontier for digital adoption, were also a part of this revolution as technology became the sole means to connect residents with friends and family.
Just four years ago, my Aunt’s care home was a digital black spot with poor wifi and little tech in evidence (unless you counted the rather splendid plasma TV which was wheeled out for screenings of major sporting/political/royal events). But fast forward just a few years to 2020 and suddenly I’m face timing my Aunt in her home and being sent film footage of her keep-fit class from the newly tech-ed up activities coordinator on the communal iPad. Necessity really is the mother of invention.
I should ‘fess up here that I work in edtech mostly within schools but I also help arts organisations develop their use of digital particularly with young people. I work at the low cost/no cost end of IT – using everyday technologies in creative and innovative ways. So, given my day job, I was both surprised and disappointed when mum moved into a home back in 2016 and I discovered that tech-use was non-existent. I wasn’t deterred and as mum was always happy to give things a try, decided to go it alone creating my own digital activities programme. One of mum’s favourite activities was ‘virtual travelling’. I used a cheap VR headset and various apps enabling 3D content including Google Street View and YouTube. These were relatively early days for cheap VR so content was limited but we were able to virtually visit significant places from mum’s life. It helped her feel connected back into the world and was a great catalyst for conversation – plus mum was totally unphased by having to wear the headset.
Another successful activity involved an iPad and the book creator app. iPads worked brilliantly with mum as the tech is intuitive and she was able to use the swipe controls with limited support. iPads (infact all Apple products) have the most amazing accessibility functions. From guided access (temporarily restricting access to a single app) to live captions, audio descriptions, assistive touch and more – they are well worth checking out . Plus, the App Store is a treasure trove of free and inexpensive applications enabling you to tailor the content on a device around the interests and needs of each resident. Book Creator, designed for the schools’ market but with wider application, is one of my favourites as it enables you to create digital books using any form of visual/audio content. Mum and I used it to create memory books which we could then revisit as a starting point for conversations. The great thing about the software is it’s ease of use. We took pictures of her analogue photos and I then recorded mum talking about these directly into the book alongside each image.
I did similar with some of mum’s old family audio tapes. I played recordings from our childhood and captured her responses using free recording software, Audacity on my PC or GarageBand on my iPad. Again, we were able to listen back to these on subsequent visits. We even had a bit of fun recording audio messages onto TalkingTiles and leaving these next to photos and other significant objects in her room. Obviously, if I’d been doing any of this with her in 2022, I’d be tapping into the incredible opportunities now available from arts/cultural and other organisations who’ve honed their digital offer and are keen to connect with the sector.
The common theme with all of the above was the use of inexpensive, everyday, easy-to-use technologies. And none of my activities required great skill – just a tablet and a few minutes. So, my hope from this period of enforced IT use is that colleagues will want to continue to build on the learning. Tech is such a great tool and can help residents connect with the world, communicate with family and friends and express themselves in alternative and creative ways. For relatively small investment of time and money that’s pretty good pay back.
- Virtual travelling
- Pages from a memory book