May 3, 2010

CANADA: Communication barriers mount for seniors in information age

RICHMOND, British Columbia / Richmond Review / Lifestyle / May 3, 2010

Staying connected with events and people and getting timely practical information to manage life and meet your needs is vital for active aging.

The fear of missing information and of being left out of the mainstream is recognized everywhere. Rapidly evolving information and communication technologies are both welcomed and criticized as instruments of social exclusion.

The telephone is still the most universal and reliable way of communicating—other than face-to-face—seniors say.

Regardless of the variety of communication choices and the volume of information available, the concern is to have relevant information that is accessible to older people. Information that reaches seniors is from community centres, public services, libraries, stores, doctor’s offices and health clinics.

Seniors still say that the telephone is the most universal and reliable way of communicating. Government and volunteer organizations should have a role in ensuring that information is widely available as an age-friendly feature.

In many countries, the cost of a home telephone line is publicly subsidized for seniors over the age of 70. Free publications and public access to newspapers, computers and the Internet in community centres and libraries at no or minimal cost are age-friendly features in Richmond.

Unfortunately, a frequent barrier is lack of awareness of available information and services and not knowing how to locate needed information. The result is that seniors may not receive benefits or services to which they are entitled or learn about them too late to apply.

Suggestion to make communication more age-friendly is to provide more information targeted to older people through newspapers or regular columns in the press, as well as through radio and television programs.

Richmond is well served having such services by our local newspapers and Channel 4 to keep us up-to-date with what’s on. Word of mouth is the principle and preferred means of communication both through informal contacts with family and friends and through public meetings, community centres and places of worship.

Radio as an information source is very popular with open-line programs whereby callers ask questions to experts or participate in discussions.

We find that we lose opportunities to interact with others as a result of changes such as new high-rise apartments in the neighbourhood. Seniors like to talk on a one-to-one basis with the person providing information because they can then ask questions.

Receiving the full attention of a real person is helpful because they can give their full attention to the queries and reply in an unhurried and sensitive manner which is highly valued by seniors. The problem of reaching seniors who are socially isolated—older people who are out of touch because they live alone with significant impairments and have little family support.

The single biggest barrier to communicating with seniors is the visual presentation of information—font size on text materials is often too small to read. Product labels and instructions, particularly for medications are hard to decipher.

Auditory information is spoken too quickly and official forms, which are vital for receiving services, and benefits are especially difficult to understand.

Automated answering services are a general source of complaint. There is too much information given too quickly, the choices are confusing and there is no opportunity to speak to a live person.

Like other citizens, seniors have a personal responsibility to keep abreast of new information by staying involved in community activities and to make an effort to adapt to change and take the risk to learn. [rc]

Aileen Cormack writes about seniors issues every month in The Richmond Review.
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