Residents at Oulu senior citizens’ home keep in touch with family by Internet phone
By Leena Sandström in Oulu
A friend helps 86-year-old Sirkka Sissala to the computer at the Mäntykoti home for the elderly in Oulu. Soon there is a ring tone, and Sissala’s daughter Sirpa Rintasaari, who lives in Turku, appears on the display.
The two chat away, and occasionally the grandmother waves at her 19-year-old granddaughter who is sitting in the background.
After the call, relayed via the Internet with Skype software, both Sissala and Rintasaari are satisfied.
"This is a wonderful way to keep in touch. With the long distance, we do not get a chance to visit often. This is much more than just an ordinary phone call. It feels almost as if we were meeting in person. We can see each other, so we aren’t completely dependent on a mental image", Rintasaari says.
Internet-based phone calls were introduced at the Oulu facility a few months ago as a way for residents to keep in touch with family members. Thanks to the small web camera installed in the computer, the old people can see each other during the call.
"There are family members outside Oulu - some even outside of Finland. This makes it easier to keep in touch, and seemed to be very good right away", says Kaija Luukinen, who works with the project.
The Skype scheme is part of a broader project financed by the Finnish Slot Machine Association. One of the aims of the project is to ascertain the applicability of technology in care for the elderly. The technical arrangements were made by technology students at the Oulu Polytechnic.
The headsets used during the Internet calls filter out background noise, which makes it easier for the senior citizens to concentrate on the call.
The caller is able to regulate the volume, if necessary, and there is no hand-held receiver. Being able to see the other person on the screen also makes it easier for those with occasional memory lapses to recognise who they are talking to. Many residents are not able to operate the computers themselves, but nurses and volunteer workers are there to help. Training in the technology has been provided for both the volunteers, and the relatives of the residents.
One of the volunteers, 63-year-old Seppo Mattila, is speaking with Matti Laurila, 78, who is at home. Laurila comes to Mäntykoti on a monthly basis for care, but now he is at home.
Technology students came to Laurila’s home two months earlier to install Skype onto his computer , and to instruct him on how to use it.
"My wife’s brother is in Spain, and I have called him there now and then. This isn’t so difficult. I use it a few times a week", Laurila says.
Laurila also takes care of banking on line. He became familiar with computers while he was still working.
"Many old people are afraid of these electronic gadgets. But there is no reason to fear - just go and learn it", Laurila says.
At Mäntykoti, there are certain times of the week when someone is assigned to respond to on-line calls.
Calls are possible at other times as well. Experiences have been positive.
"There we are, almost face to face. Family members have started to download Skype, and certainly a few years from now, this will be normal everyday practice", says Mäntykoti director Marja-Leena Timonen.
Timonen and Luukinen feel that all homes for the elderly should adopt the practice.
They do not think that on-line calls would reduce personal visits by family members. Instead they think that active contacts would increase.
They see other applications for the technology.
"It would be wonderful if we at Mäntykoti, or somewhere else, could have a place where older people without anyone to talk to could call and ease their loneliness", Luukinen ponders.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 19.3.2007
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BACKGROUND: Headphones, microphone, and an Internet connection
LEENA SANDSTRÖM / Helsingin Sanomat