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Getting down with technology

Once upon a time, DJ decks, laptops and sound docks might not have been the equipment of choice for anyone over a certain age.

But thanks to a number of innovative projects run by Waltham Forest Council, older residents and people with learning disabilities are skyping, facebooking and connecting with technology to rediscover old memories, bond with their families and gain skills for employment.

Last Friday (21 February), these projects were celebrated at ‘i can in Waltham Forest’, an event which attracted over 200 people including service users, carers and volunteers.

Local internet sensation Grace Chandler opened the event via Skype, from the comfort of her chair in a local care home. A keen knitter, Grace has recently learnt the art of video production and social media with the Council’s help, and has gone on to generate viral success with 80,000 likes for her videos on Facebook and 1,000 retweets on Twitter.

On the day, videos made by care workers and older residents showed how multimedia can bring families back together, with one video showing an elderly gentleman called Clinton re-connecting with his daughter in Trinidad via Skype, after years of little contact. Another showed how something as simple as a pair of headphones can help an elderly person re-discover their youth by dancing and throwing shapes to their favourite Elvis song.

Lawrence Ekele, a care worker at George Mason Lodge, one of the Council’s residential homes, has seen first-hand the difference that multimedia can make to the home’s residents. Describing his experience of introducing technology to the people he cares for, he said: “Music and pictures are important for service-users with dementia especially, as they help improve their depression levels and psychological well-being.”

Technology also has its uses for improving people’s employment prospects and thanks to a music project run by the Council’s Markhouse Road day centre, adults with learning disabilities are learning how to mix music so they can pursue their dream career as a DJ. On the day, a number of the centre’s regulars treated people to a musical showcase, demonstrating what they’ve learnt so far.

Money for the Council’s multimedia projects was secured by Cllr Angie Bean, Cabinet Member for Adults, in a Dragon’s Den style exercise, where she had to pitch the idea to gain support.

She said: “It’s amazing how a little bit of imagination can transform people’s lives, especially older residents who might have dementia or memory loss.

“Something as simple as a docking station can help an older person with a hearing impairment communicate with their relatives by phone, and technology can help people express themselves if they have a condition that makes it hard for them to communicate in more conventional ways.

“From internet sensations like Grace to people who have simply re-connected with the music of their youth, we’ve seen technology put a smile back on lots of people’s faces and bring families back together.”

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