A Kin On Health Care Center nurse, who prefers to be unnamed, stands next to her “med cart,” complete with a laptop that allows nurses to quickly pull up resident records electronically, Photo courtesy of Kin On Health Care Center (Kin On).
Between 2010 and 2012, Internet use in the U.S. by people older than age 65 rose from 41 percent to 54 percent, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. This is particularly good news considering that increased Internet use has been shown to reduce depression and isolation among seniors. A study in 2009 by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Policy Studies determined in its evaluation of 7,000 retired elderly persons that Internet use reduces the probability of a depression categorization for elderly persons by about 20 percent.
Among Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) elders, digital inclusion efforts by service organizations throughout Washington have allowed elders to access computer education and gain technology literacy. Through an applied use of technological skills, APIA seniors can pursue jobs online, use social media to reconnect with family and engage in civic affairs in their own languages.
This embrace of technology may be a useful tool to overcome lapses in services observed by the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA). A survey conducted by NAPCA in 2012 reached out to more than 500 community-based organizations (CBOs) across the U.S., seeking to assess the priorities and challenges facing APIA seniors today. A total of 97 CBOs returned completed surveys. The responses showed that social isolation and mental health were among the top issues that were not being adequately addressed by organizations in APIA communities.
Kin On Health Care Center (Kin On), located in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood has been using technology to bridge the digital gap for its workforce, some of whom are APIA seniors.
The mission of Kin On is to provide culturally appropriate long-term care and support services to Asian seniors and families in Greater Seattle. In recent years, Kin On has made deliberate efforts to better serve its residents by incorporating technology into the nursing home operations.
“Technology is a powerful tool for us to bring our operations to the next level,” said
Kin On CEO, Sam Wan, “not only to improve efficiency and productivity but ultimately to provide better care for our seniors and families.”
Three years ago, Kin On successfully implemented the CareTracker system to automate resident care documentations. Touchscreen devices (kiosks) are installed throughout their nursing facility for staff to document resident care electronically. The system is picture-based with simple keywords, accommodating employees who are limited English speakers. The touchscreen kiosks also allowed staff to input information easily despite having little to no experience typing on a computer keyboard. This system has enabled the whole operation to capture more detailed and accurate information, generate timely reports, help pinpoint problem areas that need to be addressed, and ultimately improve the overall care for residents, Kin On administrator, Kenny Chan, explained.
Since the initial implementation, Kin On has upgraded to a more robust documentation system and implemented a new wireless call-light system to improve response time for residents, among other technological initiatives.
In addition to digitalizing its operations to better serve nursing home residents, Kin On’s Healthy Aging Programs help Asian seniors stay socially active through regular gatherings and workshops.
In 2012, Kin On partnered with Jade Guild, a community group of Asian-American women, to offer a “Facebook 101” workshop to Asian seniors, according to Jessica Wong, Kin On fund development and communications associate. The workshop introduced seniors to the website and talked about how it can be used as a social tool.
“[Facebook] is a good form of communication to stay in touch with family members,” Wong said, while acknowledging that social media alone lacks a personal aspect achieved through genuine face-to-face encounters. Kin On held regular in-person social events, including “Story Circle” gatherings where seniors engage in dialogue about everything from social barriers to NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin.
Chinese Information and Service Center of Seattle (CISC) also offers regular computer classes to seniors at different levels — teaching elders how to write emails and resumes, make flyers and watch international news online. CISC helps more than 20,000 immigrants and their families each year overcome social barriers and assimilate into mainstream community through its programs.
“Technology use among seniors varies, but they want to learn,” said Boliver Choi, a program coordinator at CISC.
Choi said that because Internet browsers are often only in English, however, APIA seniors are sometimes discouraged from learning computer skills because of the language barriers.
A common obstacle for seniors that do want to improve their computer skills is simply finding a computer to use, said Jeff Wendland, director of employment and citizenship at Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), a nonprofit organization that offers a broad array of human services and behavioral health programs to APIAs in King County. ACRS provides computer classes tailored to what clients ask for, Wendland said. ACRS also offers English classes and incorporates different online learning tools in the curriculum.
“When people come in [to ACRS], we’re prepared to teach them at whatever level is needed,” Wendland said.
Elderly clients are usually less tech savvy and have varying needs, Wendland said. Some seniors need to learn how to use a mouse and turn on a computer.
While computer literacy may be going up for people older than 65, those who are immigrants are facing challenges, Wendland said.
“A lot of materials for citizenship aren’t necessarily available in second languages,” Wendland said. “It’s a good idea to create more services on proficiency and access.”
ACRS recently shared with its clients a video conference, spoken entirely in Vietnamese, about the benefits and the process of becoming a citizen that encouraged responses from audience.
“There is use of technology for teaching seniors,” Wendland said.
APIA women ages 75 and older have a suicide rate of 7.95 per 100,000, compared to the rate of 4.18 for white women and 1.18 for black women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By embracing technology and encouraging APIA seniors to explore new options in the digital world, local service agencies may have new tools to combat social isolation and depression among seniors.