Aroostook Agency wants to break down barriers for older residents as technology advances

11 months ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook Agency on Aging is celebrating 50 years of service as the agency looks for better ways to break down barriers to services older people may need, and to support the aging population through technology.

Aroostook Agency on Aging is focusing on changing the community perception about getting older so that aging is seen as a good thing and not a burden.

The demands to use technology were seen during the COVID-19 pandemic during which basic care, such as registering for a COVID vaccination, were done online. Aroostook Agency on Aging helped approximately 2,800 older people register for their COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Our country is aging and our counties in Maine are aging and I think what’s important to us, because we help people age in their communities, is acknowledging that aging in your communities is important for many reasons,” said Joy Barresi Saucier, agency executive director.

Older people aging in a community contribute to a better quality of life and communities are made richer because of older people’s contributions of accumulated knowledge, skills and talent that make it stronger, she said.

The agency helps older people better use technology, such as through its iPad lending program. It advocates for community connectivity through projects such as the one going on through the Northern Maine Development Commission in Caribou on expanding broadband service in Aroostook County.

An upcoming county-wide project this summer is Access Points for Aging, which will establish access points for 20 communities partnered with the Aroostook Agency on Aging. The agency received approximately $862,000 from congressional direct spending for the program.

It will better connect rural communities with video conferencing tools if access to transportation is limited to get to programs the agency offers, such as the estate planning seminar held on May 17.

“We have many older people who are interested in learning more about using technology,” Barresi Saucier said. “We have worked with the National Digital Equity Center, which is a Maine-based national resource, and we are in some discussions with them right now about bringing more [technology] training to Aroostook County.”

Another Agency on Aging program is the Online Gathering Place, a once-a-week program to bring older people together online to socialize and build a network of support. Barresi Saucier gave an example of taking a virtual tour of other countries with online video conferencing tools.

The Online Gathering Place rooted from the pandemic and was used as a way for older people to learn about places they hadn’t been to before without leaving their homes. The program has found a life after the pandemic and still has high participation, according to Saucier.

The Agency on Aging offers support for all older people living in Aroostook County regardless of income. One myth the agency wants to dispel is that there are income requirements to access some of their programs, which isn’t the case.

“We know that technology is ever changing and it has huge impacts on our world, especially over the past 10 to 20 years,” Barresi Saucier said.