Recognizing that some older adults were struggling to use technology to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vivalon launched a pilot program in September 2021 called Tech4Health. In 2022, it’s become one of our signature programs.
“During the shelter-in-place order, Vivalon continued its classes and events online, but we were concerned for the people who couldn’t connect with us in that way,” says Nancy Geisse, Vivalon Chief Operating Officer. “Tech4Health was a pilot program aimed at improving health outcomes and bridging the digital divide. We partnered with Technology4Life to build the lesson plans and Dominican University of California Nursing Department to provide compassionate instructors.”
Vivalon identified ten older adults with varying degrees of isolation who were paired with ten Dominican University nursing students to provide technology training and support. Each client was given a tablet to use throughout the program and were identified as having very low digital literacy.
“Some people didn’t know how to turn on the device or use a touch screen,” says Lynn Noyce, Adjunct Professor at Dominican University and supervisor for the nursing students. “Others had some familiarity but didn’t have the confidence to send an email or download an app. Some were suspicious of the Internet for privacy reasons. And others were just too overwhelmed by the whole shock of the pandemic to figure out how to get connected to Wi-Fi and the Internet.”
The goals of the program were to help older adults learn new skills, form meaningful relationships with young people, decrease social isolation, and most importantly to engage older adults in telehealth. Before the program, only two of the participants had used online health tools, but by the end of the nine weeks 70% of clients were regularly using technology to communicate with their doctors.
Nine of out ten participants said that Tech4Health helped them learn new information, make a new friend, feel less lonely, and empowered their overall health. And all ten participants said Tech4Health had a positive impact on their life.
While Vivalon offers other technology classes, the success of Tech4Health can be attributed to the individualized nature of the program. One participant stated, “Technology, in general can be overwhelming, intimidating. With two patient, articulate, and compassionate nurses, I was able to learn and feel comfortable at my own pace.”
“Vivalon offers technology classes, which is great,” says Ravina, Dominican University nursing student, “but this program is also about how we can make this technology useful for that individual. It’s about learning what their goal is with this device, and that wasn’t the same for everybody, so being able to tailor our lesson plans to what the clients wanted to do was helpful. I think they appreciated having that time just for them.”
For one participant, who had reported feelings of depression, isolation, and thoughts of suicide, the Tech4Health program changed her life. “Before the pandemic, all of her friends would meet in person,” says Ravina, “but when things moved online she wasn’t able to keep up with them. Initially, she was a total beginner but was very receptive to learning and was eager every time we showed up. At the end of the program, she said using this technology may have just saved her life because she was able to reconnect with friends that she hadn’t spoken to in 18 months. It was nice to see her grow so much. I could tell it made such a difference to her.”
At the end of the nine weeks, the program culminated in a graduation ceremony. “It was powerful to listen to participants share their experiences and watch them exchange contact information on their devices,” says Nancy. “We were watching their worlds open up right before our eyes. They were offered the opportunity to keep their tablet. Some wanted to purchase their own, but others were really thankful to receive a device through the Tech4Health program.”
A second session is starting this month and we are so excited for a brand new group of older adult clients to work with another cohort of Dominican University students.