MARCH 3, 2023 — Hundreds of older San Antonio residents are getting free tablets and technology and nutrition training, thanks to Sarah Ullevig and the three-year, $1.18 million grant she received from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The pandemic highlighted and increased disparities in health access and outcomes for older adults in San Antonio and nationwide. Ullevig, an associate professor of nutrition and dietetics in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy (HCAP), is working to close this gap with the City of San Antonio (COSA) and Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP. A charitable affiliate of AARP, OATS helps older adults harness the power of technology, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances, geography, educational background or age, through in-person and virtual classes.
The NIH grant is funding the distribution of tablets and a five-week technology training course for older adults at 12 senior centers across the city. After they have completed the technology training course, the participants will take an online nutrition class designed by Ullevig and her team.
“The main goal is to see if we can improve their diet quality and reduce food insecurity. We also aim to improve their knowledge, use and access of technology,” Ullevig said. “We hope to improve social isolation and loneliness. If older adults can’t get to the center, they can socialize online in this study. We’re in a technology-dependent world, and there are people who are getting left out of it.”
Before the pandemic, senior centers provided hot meals in a congregate setting, opportunities for socializing and educational outreach. But many of these centers closed for months after March 2020. During the closures, congregate meal service transitioned to distributing the five meals via twice-a-week curbside pickup and delivery for those unable to pick up their meals.
At a time when food insecurity has reached new heights, many local older adults have been isolated without access to internet technologies, compounding these challenges.
That is changing with the NIH grant.
“By joining forces with UTSA and COSA, we are able to provide 19, five-week courses that delivered 228 training sessions and to distribute 181 Generation 9 iPads in the hands of older adults in our community in the first quarter of 2023,” said Darryl Greer, OATS south regional program manager. “This kind of digital equity is a lifeline for people who otherwise might not have access to technology, and therefore, risk exclusion from the modern world.”
“Technology is not going away. We are focused on the trainings we provide, while simultaneously working with organizations and institutions that can amplify our efforts.”
In all, OATS will provide devices and training to an estimated 400 participants.
Ullevig is working with a team of UTSA researchers to complete the project. Her co-investigators include Erica Sosa, associate dean for research and professor in HCAP’s Department of Public Health; public health professors Meizi He and Zenong Yin; and Tianou Zhang, assistant professor in HCAP’s Department of Kinesiology.
The researchers worked with the City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services and OATS to implement a plan to increase access to and develop a comprehensive understanding of technology among San Antonio’s older adult population. OATS provided the devices, internet access, tech support and a five-week training course to the target population.
UTSA is providing an online, 15-week digital nutrition intervention course, following the technology course.
“The training sessions we offer make the difference between isolation—where someone may be cut off from society—to inclusion and giving someone hope,” said Pat Jasso, an OATS trainer. “Older adults are valuable members of the community. We help acclimate them to a world with so many opportunities, thanks to technology.”
This project is supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health under award number: R01NR020303. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
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