(How to) support digital engagement among older people at risk of isolation


Providing tailored support to older persons in using digital products and services can help prevent social isolation and digital exclusion.

We have a need to be active – by engaging in activities we want, need, or are expected to do – and to connect with others. With the upsurge in covid-19 cases, we are once again compelled to work at home if possible, keep distance from others, and avoid meetings with people belonging to risk groups. During this pandemic, it has become more evident how digital products and services have become essential in our daily lives to keep active and connected.

According to the Swedish Internet Foundation, 93% of Swedes use the internet every day, but there are still many who need support in tasks such as setting up mobile electronic identification and an email account. Among older persons aged 76 or older, only 73% use the internet. People who are not able to access or use the internet become at risk of being excluded from the social interactions and being deprived of the activities that contribute to their health and well-being.

If you would like to help a family member or a close contact who is unable to use digital technologies, think about tailoring the support that you give. The way you understand and use a technology may not be the same way as the person would understand and use it. It is not enough to provide a mobile device or say, we can meet on [name of video conferencing app]. First and foremost, focus on the activity, not the device or apps. What does the person want to do? Only then can you identify which app or apps can be used to support doing that activity.

When teaching the person how to use a technology,

  • Explain the area where information can be found. Is all information seen on the screen? Is there information hidden?
  • Adjust features on the device in relation to the person’s preferences –
  • Test which accessibility settings are comfortable to use – text size, brightness, contrast
  • Clean the home screen and hide apps that distract.
  • Demonstrate and explain where you can interact with the device and how control buttons work.
  • Demonstrate slowly.
  • Give simple instructions.
  • Combine short texts and images when you provide instructions on paper.
  • Ask if the person understood and let him or her show what he/she has learned. Repeat demonstrations and instructions if necessary.
  • Encourage practice.


Caroline Fischl, Madeleine Blusi, Helena Lindgren & Ingeborg Nilsson (2020) Tailoring to support digital technology-mediated occupational engagement for older adults – a multiple case study, Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 27:8, 577-590, DOI: 10.1080/11038128.2020.1760347

Svenskarna och internet (2020) Digitalt utanförskap. https://svenskarnaochinternet.se/rapporter/digitalt-utanforskap-2020/


Caroline Fischl

Assistant professor in Occupational Therapy


School of Health and Welfare Guest blogger

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