Memphis, TN — EARLIER THIS YEAR, Metropolitan Inter-faith Association (MIFA) was grateful to receive a $60,000 grant from the West End Home Foundation to help bridge the digital divide for Tennesseans age 60 and older living in Memphis and Shelby County.
The funds were used to pilot a program that provides tablet computers including wireless internet service to 50 seniors who receive MIFA Meals on Wheels. Priority was given to clients facing special challenges with isolation and disability.
Research shows that, when older adults are connected to technology, they become less isolated and more engaged in their communities. Older adults without internet access suffered more extreme levels of social isolation during the COVID epidemic. Many were unable to access essential services and products and could not take advantage of telehealth, telecounseling and other telesupport services.
These tablets by Claris Companion were specifically designed for seniors, with large buttons and text and simple functionality for ease of use. A dashboard gives MIFA staff access to tablet utilization, including a detailed breakdown by user, to assess the success of the program. In the first two months, 50 seniors logged more than 17,500 interactions, including games, video calls, photos, surveys, exercises, messages, medication reminders, and more.
MIFA’s Senior Navigator Demeatrise Givens oversees the program. She delivered each tablet and trained the seniors to use them, and she maintains those relationships through regular check-ins and surveys. “The project is a lifeline for seniors,” she says. “The access it gives them has been sensational and impactful in their lives.”
But the real impact is in the stories of the clients who use the tablets to stay entertained and connected. “Seeing seniors use this technology is a reminder that I should always remain teachable, and age is not an excuse.” says Givens.
Anthony Walker’s story takes one heartbreaking turn after another, but his commitment to joy and positivity has kept him going despite these setbacks. In 2009, he was a general manager at Wendy’s, making good money after 35 years with the company. He was shot in his leg during a robbery, and a blood clot led to mobility issues, and mobility issues led to weight gain. Then he was laid off from his job.
In 2017, he went to the emergency room, where they started him on dialysis. He lost 23 pounds in one night and nearly died. Despite lifestyle changes that resolved his high blood pressure and diabetes, significant weight loss, and never missing a dialysis appointment, his legs continued to give him trouble. In 2020, he had two toes amputated, then his leg.
“I was like a vegetable,” he says. “I didn’t know if I needed to get power of attorney and give it to my brother. Am I going to be able to stay in the house by myself? Do I need to go into a facility?” He went to rehab in the thick of COVID to re-learn how to walk. No visitors were allowed, and at one point he was unable to reach a nurse and was stuck on a toilet chair for two hours. He resolved that day to learn how to take care of himself even with a disability.
“If you’ve got trials and tribulations — you got an amputated leg, amputated arm, cancer, dialysis, or something that’s going in your life — you got to be positive,” he says. “You have to put stuff in perspective.”
He left rehab in October and went back to his own house, which had been remodeled to accommodate his wheelchair. He had another setback that Thanksgiving: He caught COVID and ended up on a ventilator. But he recovered and continued to persevere. The following summer, he got his first prosthesis. “I was like a baby in a candy store,” he says. “I had to go to rehab again to learn how to walk with a walker, then I graduated. I could walk outside. I could walk to the bank.” He also started receiving MIFA Meals on Wheels.
He was excited about the opportunity to receive a tablet. Now he uses it to pass the time at home and at dialysis and to stay connected to his beloved brother and sister. “I play games on my dialysis days,” he says. “I got photos, video calls, Ms. Givens showed me how to send a message. That’s one of the best things I’ve had with MIFA — I really appreciate that tablet.”
As we focus on innovating our Meals on Wheels program to further combat loneliness and isolation, MIFA and the meals team are grateful for this opportunity to provide tablets to our clients. We look forward to learning more from continued client surveys and sharing the results and future of this pilot program with our community of supporters.