edia and communication technologies in everyday life of nursing home residents – University of Copenhagen

Ageing and old age in the media and elderly people’s media use

Media and communication technologies in the everyday life of nursing home residents

Project Leader: Christine E. Swane

The project aims to examine nursing homes as the institutional framework of old residents’ use of media and communication technologies, focusing on everyday life in both shared facilities and individual housing.

Illness and functional impairment are great challenges in old age. Approximately one-fifth of persons 80+ live in nursing homes and 80 % of nursing home residents suffer from a dementia disease. The number of persons who feel lonely is higher among nursing home residents than among older persons living at home. Social and existential loneliness is due to their many losses; the loss of spouse and other close relatives, loss of mental and physical capacities and the ability to take care of themselves, the loss of home, routines and autonomy. These factors make nursing home residents widely dependent on the ability and willingness of other people to enhance contact and communication.

Ill and disabled older persons with impaired hearing, vision, and memory do not seem to be a specific target group for mass media such as radio, television, and newspapers. However, a variety of means of communication targeting functionally and mentally disabled older persons like particularly simple cell phones, pc- and tablet-interfaces and programmes are constantly under development to target frail older persons’ need for simple design and use. On the other hand, a little under 20 % of 80-89 year old persons are users of digital communication.

The project will explore how media and communication technologies, incl. landline phones, CD players, etc. are part of old nursing home residents' everyday lives through a phenomenological perspective. The institutionalized everyday life can be characterised by the fact that the old persons are not the only ones to take the initiative and determine the content of their daily life. How is media use in both private and public spaces negotiated? How are media and communication technologies included in everyday structure as it is organised in time and space, and in central processes of everyday life such as social and reminiscence processes? A reception analysis will be carried out specifically based on the concept of domestication in order to understand whether and how the media and communication technologies are enhancing feelings of homeliness and belonging.

The research questions focus on the changes happening in the use of media and communication technologies, when old people move to nursing homes. From a life course perspective, how are the residents' priorities and opportunities to negotiate which media are part of their daily lives – and to influence the content (e.g. choice of TV channel and program), compared to earlier phases of life? What framework is constructed by the institutional context – and does the context vary with different institutional settings? How does the frail body and brain influence the negotiation of, and the use of specific media and technologies? What are the meanings attributed to various media and technologies, both in terms of creating content and structure in the many hours in a socially ' narrow space' and in relation to the establishment and maintenance of relationships?

The empirical data are provided through ethnographic fieldwork and interviews in three nursing homes in multiple departments at each. The primary perspective is the everyday life experiences with use of media and communication technologies, complemented by the practices and understandings of family members, staff and possibly volunteers.

The project will characterize cultural and social processes associated with institutionalised and frail old age and complement our knowledge of younger and healthy older people's media use. The project includes the end of life, marked by loss, illness and frailty, into the overall study of ageing and old age in the media and older person’s use of media.