Partnering with Seniors for Better Health

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
YWCA Houston
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The YWCA Houston mission is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

We appreciate the donated Microsoft products provided by TechSoup that has allowed us to use technology in innovative ways to fundamentally transform the way we meet our mission, enabled new services to be offered and enhanced the quality of our services. In 2005, with a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a computer lab was created for teens to improve their literacy skills using technology. The computer lab was also used by the YWCA Senior Program. Seniors are often individuals with the greatest economic need. The Senior Program consists of two areas (1) the Congregate Nutrition Program and (2) the Home Delivered Meals Program using the Meals on Wheels model. We currently have 14 congregate sites in the Greater Houston area impacting more than 550 clients. The Home Delivered Meals Program began more than 30 years ago and we currently assemble and distribute meals to approximately 1,000 homebound individuals. Services provided through the YWCA Houston Senior Program meets the objectives of the Older Americans Act and support the mission of the YWCA. There has been an explosion of online health information for older adults. The readability and quality of information has been a concern to health care providers and consumers. Many older adults have unique physical and motor difficulties and cognitive impairment that impact their ability to use technology. Skills such as clicking a mouse or scrolling down a page may be more challenging. Vision is affected when backgrounds are heavily patterned or a page uses fancy fonts. Unclear instruction on how to use video streaming and too many activities on a single web page can be a challenge for older adults. Objective 11-1 of health communication for Healthy People 2010 recognizes that lower socioeconomic older Americans have the least access to information, communication technologies, health care and supporting social services in their communities. One of the objectives of this Healthy People 2010 is to improve Internet access in the home, by addressing all the factors that make an Internet connection valuable, such as basic computer literacy. “Partnering with Seniors for Better Health” is a YWCA health communication project targeted at bridging the digital divide in this population. The objective of the study was to narrow the digital divide and unequal access to technology amongst older adults in lower socioeconomic communities by designing an intervention that would assist older adults in developing skills and competence in online consumer health information retrieval and evaluation. The research and uniqueness of this program resulted in the project being published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association, January 2009 issue. The five-week education program worked with older adults from the YWCA Senior Program who were 65 years and above. The study showed how to lower computer literacy anxiety and increase computer confidence. Few studies have examined how older adults in this population use computers and Internet search systems to locate health-related information. One reason could be the stereotypical expectation that older adults are generally less accepting of innovations and technology resulting in fewer interventions designed for this population. The methodology used in this study introduced computer literacy and health information retrieval on the Internet. Adults in the program were compared to adults who were not enrolled. The variables were measured at three different intervals: before the program, at the completion of the program and six weeks following the completion of the program. The study eligibility criteria required that all participants (1) read and understand English, (2) be able to identify the “on” switch button on the computer and (3) self-identify the ability to do simple typing on a keyboard. Participants were adults, sixty-five years and above, enrolled at congregate meal sites of the YWCA Houston. The congregate meal sites were located in various senior or community centers and/or churches that provided meals and leisure activities for mobile adults in the greater Houston area. Classes were held at a YWCA Houston facility using its computer lab. The sessions were taught using PowerPoint slides projected onto a screen. Transportation to and from the facility to bring the participants to classes was provided by the YWCA Houston. A total of 137 seniors participated in the study. Twenty five participants dropped out of the study. Mean age was 74 years, 72% were female, and 64% of the participants’ annual family incomes were below the $10,000 poverty line. All had at least some form of education (less than high school to postgraduate degrees); 70.5% had never used a computer before and almost 81.2% had never used or never had access to the Internet. When asked reasons for not using a computer, 42.9% mentioned they did not have the opportunity to learn, while 25% said they did not have access to a computer. Of the 112 seniors in the study, 70 believed that the Internet could be used to find medical information that would be useful in managing their health care. Almost 92% were not aware that computers and Internet were available and accessible to the public at community centers and public libraries. At the end of the intervention program, 95% of the seniors reported they felt more confident exploring and evaluating health information online, planned on using the health information received on the Internet to manage their chronic illnesses and learned more about the prescription drugs and Medicare benefits. The “Partnering with Seniors for Better Health” project was also presented at the 2009 Annual Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging that took place on March 15-19 in Las Vegas. Many thanks to Microsoft and TechSoup for the Microsoft products. With these tools, the YWCA Houston created opportunities for seniors to learn about their health and take action.


Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact
Supporting Work Files