Program to increase digital literacy among older adults to be operated out of Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Community Services. (Special to The News)

Program to increase digital literacy among older adults to be operated out of Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Community Services. (Special to The News)

New seniors digital literacy program to be offered in Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows

Community Services was one of 29 non-profit service agencies to receive an Active Aging Plus grant

A year-long digital learning pilot project for seniors and older adults has been launched at Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Community Services.

The goal of the United Way healthy aging program is to increase digital literacy among older adults across the province.

Community services is one of 29 non-profit service agencies across the province that received an active aging plus grant to promote digital learning and develop virtual activities for older adults in the community.

The program was launched at the local charity because it is an extension of their seniors programs that are already funded by the United Way, explained Joanne Leginus, director of administration and services with community services.

And, it is a program that is very much needed in the community, she said.

“The pandemic has highlighted digital literacy as a barrier when seniors cannot connect socially with friends, family, and resources. It has increased their vulnerability dramatically,” noted Leginus.

“We told our seniors to stay home, and gave them options to shop online from the grocery store – use Zoom to connect with family –talk to a doctor virtually.

“How did we expect them to do that, when they either don’t own the technology – or if they do – they don’t know how to use it beyond playing a game of solitaire,” she asked.

READ MORE: Maple Ridge community teams up to show seniors they’re loved this Valentine’s Day

According to United Way, the digital learning pilot project represents more than $500,000 in community investment.

“It’s important for people to maintain their independence and stay connected as they age, and digital technology has such an important role to play,” said Kahir Lalji, provincial director of United Way healthy aging, that develops and manages programs that provide quality-of-life benefits to seniors throughout the province, helping them stay active, connected, and independent. It is delivered across B.C. through the United Way of Lower Mainland.

Healthy aging has a network of more than 125 agencies that provide 195 programs to strengthen connections and support seniors in local communities across the province.

“Devices, data, and the right skills are increasingly necessary for seniors, like all of us, to carry out the daily activities of our lives – things like banking online or ordering groceries,” Lalji said.

Statistics shared by United Way demonstrate the increase of device ownership and usage among older adults, with 65 per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 owning a smartphone and 83 per cent of them using it daily.

READ MORE: Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows organization now delivering groceries for seniors

Community services will be receiving support and training from the United Way healthy aging and HelpAge Canada, a national charitable organization supporting seniors in Canada and around the world.

In turn, the agency, along with others in the province, will work directly with seniors in their community.

“Venturing into the digital world can be a daunting experience. It’s not easy to get started, and it’s often unaffordable – but in today’s world it’s a necessity,” said Nicole Perry, director of national programs for HelpAge Canada.

“We are pleased to be able to share our digital literacy expertise in support of older adults who want to learn how to incorporate technology into their lives,” she said.

Progress will be evaluated during the pilot year, with the hope of developing the program further.

Leginus hopes that the initiative will provide them with the additional platform of reaching seniors virtually during the pandemic and that it will also remove future barriers for seniors still struggling with transportation or mobility issues.

According to a survey by the Disabled Living Foundation, Leginus said, the majority of seniors fear losing their independence more than death.

“While no technology can take the place of in-person human interaction, video chat services like Zoom, email, and social media can supplement seniors’ social interactions when visits with friends and family aren’t possible, or too infrequent,” Leginus said.

Connections…, she added, that can not only improve their mental health, but physical health as well.

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