Maureen's voice - Getting online during the COVID-19 pandemic
For many in later life getting online can be quite a daunting prospect, but 83-year-old Maureen has taken up the challenge and shown how important it can be.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Maureen and her husband have been told to shield themselves as they fell under the government's vulnerable category, but they're now enjoying more independence by getting themselves online.
For the past five years, 83-year-old Maureen has been living with Rheumatoid arthritis. The condition also affects her 85-year-old husband, whom she has been married to for 60 years. They both receive treatment to deal with the effects of the condition, but one of the side-effects is that the medication weakens your immune system, making them more susceptible to other illnesses.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, both have been classed as vulnerable and are in the government’s ‘shielding’ category, meaning they’re having to self-isolate for 12 weeks. “As soon as we heard about the first death of this coronavirus on the television," Maureen says, "me and my husband knew straight away that we would be spending a lot more time in the house.”
What they didn’t realise at the beginning of the outbreak was how serious the virus was and how they would sacrifice so much. “When we were told to go into lockdown, the one thing I was worried about the most was getting some Turkish delight, as they’re my favourite sweets,” she says jokingly. “But in all seriousness, we were worried about how we would get food or any medication – and how we would get anywhere if one of us were to fall ill.”
Luckily, the couple have three sons, who were all on hand at the beginning of the pandemic to drop off food parcels and give them peace of mind through conversations on the telephone, and they have been talking to their neighbours across their gardens.
“Our neighbours have been wonderful,” Maureen adds. “They’re a young couple with two wonderful children who remind me of my own grandchildren – and it’s been nice to chat to them over the garden fence, and they’ve been getting us the odd bit of food as well.”
I said to my eldest son that I wanted to be able to video call and do food shopping on the internet.
However, Maureen and her husband were starting to feel disconnected from their families, with telephone conversations not filling the void of seeing their loved ones. One of their sons bought them a laptop after the pair said they finally wanted to try and get themselves online.
“I said to my eldest son that I wanted to be able to video call and do food shopping on the internet,” she says. After seeing adverts on the television for online shopping and video calling, she thought now would be the ideal time to try their hand at it.
“I felt like we were falling behind and would get forgotten about if we didn’t at least try something and try new technology. We already have internet installed for when my grandchildren visit and use it for their gadgets, so we didn’t need anyone to come out to do that.”
A few days later, the laptop arrived, but Maureen found herself overwhelmed by it all. “I must admit, it was scary when it showed up and I was thinking to myself ‘I’m probably going to break this somehow’.” But, with a little guidance from her grandson, she was up and running in no time.
“He was wonderful and must have the patience of a saint because I had a lot of questions,” she recalls. “I wrote everything down as I went along, and he made it very easy for me to understand, which I am very fortunate for.”
After spending the next day with her husband reading through her grandson’s instructions, and reading the manual, the couple spent a few hours going through it all again to familiarise themselves with how it works.
“Connecting to the internet was much easier than I thought, but we still had to make an email address, which filled me with dread.”
We have managed to get all our food essentials, including the Turkish Delight, delivered straight to our door.
After seeing and reading mostly negative comments about how vulnerable older people are online, Maureen has been very cautious and careful with her information.
“My son told me to only open emails from family, and from companies I might order from,” she said. “I still want to bank the old-fashioned way, as I don’t want to have anything bad happen to my bank account.”
After a successful start up with the laptop, the pair have become more confident with how to use it. In fact, they have managed to book and order their first ever online food shop and they have even worked out how to use Zoom for video calling.
“It’s been wonderful,” beams Maureen. “We have managed to get all our food essentials, including the Turkish Delight, delivered straight to our door. The lovely young man from the shop came and dropped everything by our front door, and I am pleased to say that it had everything we needed.”
“I felt like a supergranny after that arrived, and it has made us feel good about ourselves. We might be ‘past it’ in some people’s eyes, but we were able to learn some new tricks.”
At the Centre for Ageing Better we want more people in later life, like Maureen, to be able to get what they need and want from the internet.
Our current focus is on how best to support people in later life to use the internet to access the information, advice and services that they want and need.