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STEHL Project – Smart Tablet Education for Healthy Living for Older Adults

Posted by on November 15th, 2023 Posted in: Blog


The Region 6 SAGs, or State Advisory Groups, are one of two partnership types initiated in this five-year cooperative agreement with the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The purpose of Region 6 State Advisory Group (SAG) is to provide leadership guidance for their state’s outreach and engagement activities. Each SAG was assigned the task of guiding the development and implementation of an action plan that addresses how NNLM can combat specific health disparities which are identified as priorities with a focus on medically underserved populations. The Illinois SAG decided to offer the  Illinois SAG Outreach Award.

The award closed 15 May 2023 and was awarded to the Northern Illinois University School of Nursing for the Smart Tablet Education for Healthy Living (STEHL) Project in the amount of $10,000. Primary Investigator (PI), Dr. Anitha Saravanan directed the project which was built upon a previous project funded by an NNLM and All of Us research award completed in April of 2023. This project engaged older adults at retirement facilities to help them become more comfortable with technology designed to assist them in finding quality health information online. Dr. Saravan and her team launched the project in August 2023, and below is the project’s story. We hope that others will be able to replicate this project throughout other retirement facilities in Illinois and beyond. Follow along for details of this exciting outreach project as described by Dr. Saravanan.

Jacqueline Leskovec, MLIS, MA, RN
Region 6 SAG


When, where, and why did we start?
During the post COVID pandemic, little did we realize the extent to which we all started relying on technology. The pandemic was particularly challenging for older adults, especially for those living in retirement communities in underserved communities, causing social isolation and reduced access to important healthcare resources. While other populations such as middle-aged adults, children, and adolescents living in the community had more access, exposure and necessity due to their work or school commitments to use technology to communicate, older adults living in underserved areas were not part of the speeding of the digital revolution that happened during the COVID pandemic. In addition to challenges to access and social isolation, they also faced other emotional challenges such as fear, depressive mood, and anxiety. It was heartbreaking to see our older adults suffer in silence, so we reached to our local communities to see how we could help.

What did we do before starting STEHL?
We did a needs assessment in the community during which the older adults and staff mentioned that “lack of technological knowledge” as the most important reason for less access to available healthcare resources. Interactions with the residents in retirement homes indicated that most older adults in underserved areas did not have access to a smart phone or other gadgets to access resources. Hence, we thought that the best way to reach the older adults particularly belonging to an underserved area was to provide them with access to digital technology such as smart tablets, provide necessary support and training, and address any barriers to using digital resources so we can help improve their health and quality of life.

How did we actually do the STEHL project?
First, we created educational materials and space (handbook and website). The handbook provided a step wise resource guide and was available on the webpage and in a pdf version accessible on the smart tablets. A printed copy was also provided to the residents so that they could carry it with them. The webpage provided a one stop shop for health-related resources as applicable to support healthy living in older adults. A website with the name of the project within the NIU domain was created with assistance from the web developer and health science librarians at Northern Illinois University. Within this website, all content materials (handbook, links to health-related resources such as MedlinePlus, National Institute for Aging, and marketing materials for workshops) were placed for easy access. Next, we created a program schedule which provided three workshops on site for the residents. The STEHL training was conducted by younger adults. nurses and student nurses.

What did we hear from our participants?
Some participants embraced the challenge of learning modern technology, expressing enthusiasm about improving their skills: “I love technology. I love the challenge”. One participant highlighted the importance of time and effort in becoming more comfortable and successful with the tablet: “I think in general, the more success you have, the better you are, and the more comfortable you feel using it. That just comes with a little time and effort”. Progress was evident for some participants, who reported improvements in their skills after attending the tablet training class. One of the participants stated towards the end of the project, I’m still a beginner, but I’m a lot better than I was before the class.”

Student nurse experience of being part of the project.
To be a part of the STEHL project was both enlightening and impactful. I was fortunate to be able to help create a handbook for the older adults to be able to utilize their Samsung tablet.”

One of the students (younger adult) who participated in this project commented “I learned the importance of the need for older adults to be taught how to utilize technology and how they struggle with the use and understanding of how technology works, which had resulted in many of the groups’ frustration. The session demonstrated the clear need that older adults should receive step by step instruction and demonstration of how to use technological devices.”

Another student stated:
The STEHL project has been such a great learning experience for me as a student nurse. I felt like I was able to learn more about how community projects are developed and how it can impact the vulnerable populations. I have also learned the basics of how to appropriately interact with older adults and how to use their feedback to help this population with their needs.”

How our older adults benefitted.
The older adults benefited significantly from the STEHL project. For many of the individuals, there have not been many chances for someone or a group of people to come in and go through each step of how to utilize technology, specifically a Samsung tablet. Starting from pushing the power on button, many of the individuals expressed their appreciation that individuals would take their time with each person and go through each step from the beginning to eliminate as much confusion as possible. By day two and three, you could see the progression when some of the older adults were now able to access the internet and go to the tablet setting or camera with minimal assistance.

What did we see as the project outcome?
The STEHL project helped many older adults living in underserved communities to not only learn how to use technology, but also to access accurate information. Since many residents did not have the basic knowledge of using smart tablets, teaching them the basics was an important building block to get the older adults to the main goal. A good portion of the population that was involved would not have been able to go straight to the internet and then access the STEHL website, because they didn’t have the knowledge to turn on the tablet and pick the correct application. After the end of the sessions, most participants were able to learn and access the STEHL website on their own. The ability to have workshops and reinforce learning with the tablets helped the older adults to improve their confidence levels with using smart tablets.

What we think of this project for future.
In the future, as some of the older adults expressed, the project can include more sessions that focus more on the advanced features of the tablet so that they have more reliable health resources at their fingertips and thus have a better understanding of their personal health.

Furthermore, we hope to create apps for older adults and train them how to use the apps and their functions, such as monitoring blood glucose and blood pressure, which can be reported to their health care provider at a future health appointment. We also envision teaching residents to access their medical information, schedule appointments, and communicate with healthcare team members through their online charts. Learn more about the project here!

The Smart Tablet Education for Healthy Living Program, a Region 6 Speaker Spotlight Series Webinar  was presented on December 1, 2023. The recording is now live on the NNLM YouTube channel:
 Video iconClass Recording is available online.

STEHL Webinar Promo

-Guest post by Anitha Saravanan PhD, RN, ANP-BC
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing / College of Health and Human Sciences, Northern Illinois University

Image of the author ABOUT Jacqueline Leskovec
Jacqueline Leskovec, MLIS, MA, RN (she/her) is the Network Specialist for NNLM Region 6. She is the lead for the Partner Outreach Program (POP), Network membership and user accounts, the Data Reporting System (DRS), and the Region 6 website. She has been with the Network since 2005. In addition to being a health sciences librarian, Jacqueline maintains her license as a registered nurse. She works from her home office in Chicago. She is well acquainted with power tools and will be happy to bore you with details of her many home repair and remodel adventures.

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This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Grant Number 1UG4LM012346 with The University of Iowa.

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