Working with the elderly in COVID times: the Sessions Experience

In the context of the ICTskills4All project, whilst maintaining the primary objective of avoiding exposure for elderly people, the Centre for Intergenerational Integration Hipokamp was able to conduct structured sessions in Poland, based on “New future and reality”. To ensure a safe environment, small working groups were created, with less than 4 participants per group.

Assisting seniors in the earliest steps of familiarisation with computers and the internet is already an extremely demanding experience, especially if target groups have no previous knowledge or skills, but this challenge was made even more difficult due to Covid times, as the trainers had to respect safety distancing requirements at all times. Moreover, safety measures such as mouth and nose covering, created a permanent feeling of stress which affected both participants and educators. The activity was conducted with a major sense of responsibility as both learners and educators were in the highest level risk groups.

Nonetheless, a truly positive achievement was made possible: the seniors realized for the first time that ICT skills are absolutely necessary, especially when facing the threat of a lockdown or a permanent social distancing as their new way of living. 

Key observations

  • Some participants didn’t feel enough support in the process, as each person required different help and dedication in order to feel totally engaged and motivated. The response was to schedule 4 additional sessions, to support participants individually. These extra sessions were conducted once a week combining 2 learners and 2 assistants, giving participants more confidence and the feeling of a safe environment to explore the new tools.
  • Elderly people's motivation can be improved and their natural resistance and lack of self-confidence can be overcome, by supporting seniors to accept unsuccessful attempts and encouraging them to try again after failure, maintaining the attention and focus during the meeting. Educators can support the learning process by understanding the seniors’ specific limits, mainly related to hearing loss.
  • The tool used in the sessions was originally conceived for children, as there is currently no similar tool for adults. The educators agreed that it offered a very good set of exercises, but created the risk of infantilization in the senior education, which must be avoided.
  • Educators also agree on the fact that the learning process should be individualized, depending on the intellectual and motor abilities and predispositions of each participant, diagnosing the needs, potentials and deficits of each attendee.
  • Too many topics and an excessively fast pace of the course could also hamper the learning process, which should be slowed down and adapted to the age and communication barriers of the group.
  • All participants agreed that there was too much documentation, thus the next sessions should be developed on the idea that less is more.
  • It is indispensable for educators working with older adults to have the gerontological background, knowledge and consciousness to conduct the activity successfully.

The so-called Sessions Experience confirmed a very important learning for general ICT education for seniors: the process of explaining and encouraging seniors with NO digital skills, requires individual, competent approach with particular care and sensitivity.

Success story

The true success of the work conducted for ICTSkills4All  was that some of the participants decided to buy smartphones and the additional sessions scheduled were adjusted to assist them in the process of familiarising and learning to use the new device.

Do you have similar success stories to share with our community? Do you wish to contribute by offering advice or sharing your own experience working with the elderly? We would love to hear all about it!

Do you want to learn more about the project or get in contact with our experts? Please reach out to us on our website @ https://up.pt/ictskills4alleu/en/welcome-ictskills4all or on our Facebook page.

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