Tablet program saves the day during COVID

Grande Prairie Palliative Care Society loans iPads to seniors in long-term care homes to counter lockdown isolation

CAMROSE, Alta. — A program that loans iPads to people in hospice or long-term care has been a lifeline for Esther Horney.

When the doors of her long-term care home slammed shut because of COVID-19, the spry 91-year-old felt isolated and was confined to her Grande Prairie long-term care facility. Through the Grande Prairie Palliative Care Society, Horney was loaned an iPad to help ease the isolation.

“I don’t know what I would have done without it. My family don’t live close to me and my children keep sending things about my grandkids and there is a lady in here that sends jokes. It is wonderful,” said Horney, who had never used an iPad before she received it almost a year ago.

Now, Horney connects with her family through Facebook, reads books, plays games and searches for information she is curious about.

“I play games on my iPad a lot and it passes the time. We can’t go out and my family doesn’t live close by. I spend a lot of time on it. I don’t know what I would do without it. I feel sorry for the people who don’t have them and they just sit. It is just terrible and we are all in this together.”

A day earlier, Horney was showing another resident of Heritage Lodge a story she was reading on the iPad and how she could make the print larger for easier reading. Horney thinks she may have convinced him to get an iPad too.

“It was easy once you understand it. I don’t know if I would live without it.”

Having the ability to connect with her mother-in-law gave Verna Horney peace of mind that she was was less isolated and able to deal with the Covid-19 lockdown easier.

“I’m shocked at how well this has worked,” said Verna of Edmonton.

Through the iPad program, the Horney family has come together for virtual birthdays and Christmas and Halloween parties all through the FaceTime app on the iPad.

“It has opened up her world,” said Verna, who said her mother-in-law travels virtually and explores the world with her iPad.

Grande Prairie’s Nav Care, or iPad program as it is commonly called, began in 2018 with funding from the local rotary club.

Since Covid-19, residents have become even more isolated and the program has become more important, said Hope McNally, executive director of the Grande Prairie Palliative Care Society.

Each iPad that goes to clients is identical with the same program apps loaded onto each in the same location on the iPad to make tech support easier for McNally.

“I had to learn how to visualize their iPad and tell them how to work around in their iPad.”

McNally has also developed an easy-to-use manual for the clients, their families and the caregivers in the hospitals and homes to help the iPad users.

“It is very visual and basic and step by step.”

In the beginning, the iPads were loaded with resources and information and apps that would support families in hospice. Now, more apps are included on the iPads, including social media apps like Zoom, Facebook and other programs that will allow residents and families to connect.

Every iPad has its own gmail account as a way of identifying each computer and to give each user access to an email account. Many users have never used computers before and don’t have email addresses.

Each iPad also comes with Google photos. When family members come to visit, they’re encouraged to video the visit, post it to their Google photo account and share it with other family members. The photo records can act as a legacy for the family forever.

Early into the Covid-19 lockdown McNally realized they needed to add more mental health information and support onto the iPads. With a push of a button, residents can now connect directly to suicide prevention workers and grief support. A volunteer companion program connects a volunteer with the resident just to chat.

The program also partners with the Grande Prairie library, which has given each client three different library apps to allow the user to read newspapers, books, ebooks and magazines.

“They have so much variety in there.”

McNalley said one client was completely isolated at home when her family reached out to ask to be part of the iPad program.

“When COVID hit, she couldn’t leave her house and her family couldn’t come and see her, she couldn’t order groceries, She had nothing. She didn’t even have a cellphone,” said McNally, who said it didn’t take long for the client to adopt the new technology.

“The wording the family used is she ‘took to that iPad like a duck to water’.”

The woman has even started to drive her family crazy with texts, Facetime chats and messages. She orders her groceries online through a grocery app installed on the iPad.

“It has given her so much freedom. We taught her how to use social media, she watches movies on it, she reads books like you wouldn’t believe and her daughter said, ‘Mom never had any interest in reading a book’. But now she has a whole world where she didn’t before. We hear that a lot.”

The iPads can also enable family members visiting a dying loved one to allow everyone to be in the room virtually.

The different apps and information on the iPads allow the residents and family members to start conversations about tough subjects.

The Grande Prairie program has about 80 iPads, three Kindles, five Samsung tablet devices and 10 Google Nest hubs. The Google Nests are voice activated and the client can direct the nest to call a friend, get the weather or any other direction.

The local Catholic school donated 50 iPads to the program when it was updating its iPads, but McNally said they always need more to lend out.

McNalley said some residents have their own iPads, which she loads with the hospice’s apps.

Bill Harder, program co-ordinator with the Camrose Hospice, said the need for the iPad programs is significant to breaking the isolation of seniors.

“This iPad program has become a window to the world,” said Harder.

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