The isolation of the pandemic has inspired many older adults to adopt computers, tablets, and smart phones as a way to stay active and connected. And many of their children have encouraged seniors to reach out to the world with digital technology.

But it’s not always easy for someone to just pick up a device and start using it. 

A BC company has developed a free app that serves as an easy-to-use gateway to online services—video visiting, health and fitness information, entertainment, and more—in a format that was specifically designed for seniors.

“You don’t need computer experience to be able to use it,” said Carolyn Glazier, who founded Stayhome-Living with Barry Jones. “We wanted the user experience to be intuitive.”

The app’s home screen is a diagram of a house with seven windows. Each window, when clicked, opens onto a specific service category: a personal agenda, activities, phone or video connections, entertainment, health care, learning, and services in general.

Glazier said the seniors who tested the app found the format easy to use. 

“They know that all the content behind those windows is curated specifically for them. So people are starting to gain confidence because they know that ‘okay, this is for me,’” Glazier said. “They might give something a go that they might not have necessarily tried before. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.”

As pandemic restrictions ease, Jones said, the app will be a valuable tool for people who want to live as independently as possible for as long as they can.

“That was the goal. That was really the vision behind it, and that sort of drove the name of the company Stayhome Living,” he said. 

“We really wanted to give people an opportunity to keep you engaged and introduce a few resources that might allow you to stay at home—be it to help combat the loneliness you’re feeling, or access to health care or other services that are available online that you might not otherwise be able to find.

“We have plenty of users who are in retirement communities, for whom this is just part of their daily routine,” Jones said. “They’ll have a cup of tea in the morning and listen to our classic playlist or play some games on there, or do some chair-based exercises. It’s all about doing our bit. We just want to feel like we’re somehow improving the quality of older adults’ lives.”

It’s not just about receiving content. The app is designed to make it easier for users to reach out, Glazier said.

“Somebody at a very basic level could go in and touch an exercise class and it’ll bring down different options—you just touch the screen of what you want to do,” she said. 

“And then when you’re done, you back out, you can watch movies, play games. So at a very basic level, that would be things to start, to give it a try. And then the next level, maybe you could try ordering groceries online.”

Jones said from there, users can use the app to set up Facebook accounts or initiate Zoom calls. 

The app can also connect users with online library services and tele-health options that can complement in-person doctor visits.

“The telehealth world is an opportunity to see your doctor from the relative safety of your own home, and get a prescription written up and faxed to your closest pharmacy where they can be picked up for you,” he said. 

Many seniors are technologically adventurous, with what Jones calls a “give it a go” mentality. But many others are finding that an increasingly online world is leaving them behind. 

Often their children will give them a smart phone or tablet, but don’t understand that it’s not easy for them to just pick it up and start using it.

“We had one of our users who had been given a new tablet and he said it was sort of a glorified paperweight, because he really didn’t know what to do with it,” Glazier said. “And now he’s actually holding Zoom happy hours with his friends. So he’s been gaining big confidence and having a lot of fun with it.

“It spurred him on from ‘what will I use this for?’ to now he’s got the app and he’s like ‘okay, I’ve got this.’”

The app’s intuitive layout (Carolyn and Barry refer to it as “the House”) is proving attractive to younger and more experienced tech users than the 75-plus population they had in mind.

“It’s funny because at the beginning this was definitely in mind for older adults, but it seems to be getting a little bit younger,” Carolyn said. “I have some friends that are now using the House and they’re asking ‘are you sure it’s just for seniors? I find it convenient to be able to go to Skip The Dishes’ or whatever it might be.”

“It’s definitely targeted to 75-plus,” Jones said, “but we’re seeing plenty of new users in the 65-plus area who are finding it very useful.”

E-commerce and online shopping have boomed during the pandemic. One result of this—surprising, perhaps, to some—is that people are finding they like it. As Covid-19 gradually fades, online services from shopping to libraries to health care will continue to expand. 

Jones says this underlines the importance of making those services easy to use.

“I think people do a lot of e-commerce shopping now because of the pandemic. But, you know, it’s not going to go back, the bricks and mortar retail are never going to be quite the same again,” he said. 

The app is available for free from Stayhome-living.com. 

What the heck is an app, anyway?

“Download and install the app” may be everyday language to some people, but if it’s not something you’ve done before it makes no sense whatsoever. The first barrier to learning to use a computer, tablet, or smart phone is getting the hang of the jargon.

The word “app” is short for “application.”  It simply means a function you’d like your device to be able to  perform.

Computers are capable of learning and performing millions of possible tasks, but only some tasks are practical for any given user. A musician, for instance, might like having their phone work as a metronome to keep time while they’re practicing. But there’s no reason for everybody to have a metronome in their pocket or purse.

So computers (including tablets and phones) come equipped with some commonly-used apps—a calculator, for instance, or a spelling assistant—while other, more specialized apps are available to those who want them.

Some apps cost a few dollars, others are free. They are available through the internet and generally take no more than a couple of minutes to install on your device. 

If you learn of an app you would like to use, and you aren’t familiar with how to get it and install it, it’s an easy thing for an experienced computer user to help you with.

The app’s home page is a diagram of a house. Each window offers particular services. SUBMITTED