1 October 2020
Meet Maureen, my 84-year-old mum, now the proud owner of an iPad.
This case study was originally written to celebrate the International Day of Older Persons on 1 October 2020. My role in the Communications Team at Wessex AHSN is to share the good work the teams do. To contribute towards the valued work at Wessex AHSN, I thought it would be helpful to capture my mother’s experience of having to adapt her life and learn new skills she otherwise just wouldn’t entertain unless absolutely critical to her. This snapshot into my mother’s life during the first Covid-19 pandemic lockdown resonates with projects we have been working on.
A year ago my mother had no intention of ever owning anything IT related. My mum would adamantly tell me and my sister that technology makes her very anxious and that she doesn’t need it in her life. She has rejected numerous mobile phones and laptops that were given to her over the years. Maureen has age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this means her vision is deteriorating and therefore another contributing factor to her barrier to getting online.
At the beginning of the pandemic I organised her weekly shop. Every day we would speak, sometimes five minutes, sometimes half an hour. My mum relied heavily on her home phone to stay in contact with friends and family, that being her only source of contact with the outside world. I would deliver her weekly food shop by leaving it at the bottom of her stairs whilst she would talk to me out of her upstairs flat window, felt a bit like Rapunzel or Romeo and Juliet. On the weekends I would read out what’s on the tv, this became a not all that useful routine as more often than not, she would forget what I’d read out.
Covid-19 has meant that mum is having to grasp technology, being forced to learn anything new in a crisis situation does rather focus the mind, it helped her work out what’s important to her. Luckily for me, my mother already has a router and access to the internet in her flat as I had organised that when she previously had a laptop, at least that was one hurdle already over, just needed to plug it back in. Having the internet does mean that we can all jump on her wifi when visiting her.
Mum’s top priority for buying an iPad is to see her grandchildren and talk face-to-face with them. My sister and I decided to work together to talk her into buying an iPad rather than a laptop, we felt the accessibility functionality is superb plus the simple layout, less daunting for her. The thought of heading into the winter months plus the possibility of the need for her to shield with the increasing risk of rising infections, forced her to make that purchase.
Our top priority for mum is connecting her digitally to her doctor’s surgery. It took a bit of working out as she doesn’t have a smart phone, driving licence or passport but the NHS app provided support to quickly get her signed up through her surgery.
I have promised that when she needs to talk to her doctor that I will sit down with her to make the appointment and be there to help her see her doctor on screen. Moving her to online appointments is a massive deal for her and I want her to feel calm and confident with the technology so she can speak freely with a nurse or doctor in the safety of her own home.
When the iPad arrived, I set it up adding only a few apps, e.g. a TV guide app being one of them. I also chose a background colour that made the apps stand out, plus increased the app buttons to the largest size and played around with the screen definition and brightness to get the maximum clarity. I can see that the iPad offers an online magnifying glass but we’re not there yet with her finding and using it.
Introducing my mum to her iPad was incredibly hard work. When she lifted the screen lid for the first time she told me her heart was racing. Her fear is very real but also she is incredibly stubborn and would rather resist having to learn anything new; that’s understandable, really, at her age. Initially we asked her to touch the home button and register her index finger and thumb. That took a long time as she wasn’t applying the correct pressure to the home button and she wasn’t sure why she was doing it. We explained that finger recognition meant she didn’t need to use the passcode but the terminology, that we take for granted, meant nothing to her, plus the pressure on a touch screen is so natural to us but was at first incredibly difficult for her to master.
The first week she had it, I asked her to open the cover and play around with the iPad but she wasn’t really engaging with it. She had forgotten to press the home button and had no recollection of her passcode. When we asked her to press the home button with either her index finger or thumb she wasn’t sure which button to press, we kept telling her that there is only one button! We made regular phone calls to remind her to use her finger/thumb and her passcode number, it was incredibly frustrating for her and us. Mum now has an A4 size piece of paper with her passcode written on it; until it becomes second nature, the paper stays. My sister suggested that we need to set her a task each day, e.g. check the weather, find out what’s on TV that day or ask Siri a question.
Mum is really liking FaceTime and receiving calls, she knows to lift the screen cover and press the green button, that feels like progress! She has chatted with my niece who lives in London and I FaceTimed her whilst we were visiting our son in Berlin! My mum was so pleased to see us all, it took a few failed attempts for her to pick up, but we got there. She has FaceTimed my niece once (by accident) but that is progress too.
We’re a long way from the iPad being her ‘go to’ to find anything out but she realises she has a need for one and is slowly becoming braver with it. Mum is regularly charging it up, now she’s found the tiny hole the cable fits in. We’re also going to get an adjustable table to pull in against her chair as we’re always seeing the top of her curls and the ceiling rather than her face. Plus it means that she can put it down on its stand and chat with her hands.
My sister and I know that her iPad will open up so much to her during the dark winter months, garden tours, church services, food shopping and exercise classes to name but a few! Perhaps I’ll do another instalment in six months, see how she’s doing.
My mother’s refusal to join the world of the internet has held her back from so much! She’s been unable to see her grandchildren and old friends over the past six months. This, I know, has been a set back and has lowered her mood. It has been a very testing time and I hate to admit that the virus has made her see what’s she’s missing out on. We have an aunt whom my mother is very close to, she is friends with her own children plus my sister and me on Facebook and follows us on Instagram. My aunt knows that to stay in contact with her children and grandchildren she has to keep up with how we’re all chatting to each other.
To my sister and me, having an iPad or smart phone is as important as an emergency pull cord. It’s her life-line to stay connected.