Neighbours and friends should help older people use digital technologies to allow seniors to stay connected and healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Australian organisation which drives ageing research innovation.

The South Australian-based Global Centre for Modern Ageing (GCMA) said that many older people already own digital devices but are not using them to their full potential. 

“During this unprecedented time, many people may feel confined to their homes,” said GCMA CEO, Julianne Parkinson. 

“However, greater isolation does not necessarily need to lead to loneliness, people do not need to be disconnected from the world. 

“We know increasing numbers of people are using technologies to socialise, connect, learn, and in many cases, work or run a business. For those who aren’t, we urge the digitally confident to offer support in getting their friends, family and neighbours online – or helping them to use online technologies they may not be familiar with.”

Ms Parkinson said people who do not feel comfortable continuing with their usual activities – or who may need to stay at home if unwell – could still connect online.

“The weekly catch up at the local café can be replaced with an online video chat using one of the many readily available platforms such as WhatsApp or FaceTime, some medical appointments can be conducted using telehealth and people can also learn new skills through online learning if they are enabled,” Ms Parkinson said.

She added people who would like to use technology to a greater extent but need some guidance should also feel comfortable and not embarrassed asking for help.

A 2016-17 Deloitte survey of Australian consumers found 78% of people aged 65-75 owned a smartphone, along with 82% of those aged 55-64. 

However, a recent study by RMIT University’s School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, and University of Third Age (U3A) found that while older people have high levels of digital device ownership, they only have “moderate” levels of confidence in using the devices.

“Technology can help Australians to meet these needs, providing access to services and connection to loved ones, which can help to preserve their wellbeing during this challenging and uncertain time,” Ms Parkinson said.

Retirement communities responding to coronavirus

Australian retirement and aged care communities are joining the global effort to minimise the impacts of the pandemic.

In line with the comments above, Catholic Healthcare says it is encouraging families and friends to minimise visits to residents and at the same time putting in place additional technology to allow residents to make video calls to colleagues and loved ones.

A number of other retirement communities are putting in place more stringent measures to vet visitors, or cancelling group activities and events. 

At the same time, many of these retirement communities have in-house care providers or support staff to help residents who may be feeling anxious or unwell. 

Many retirement community operators have published coronavirus policies and statements on their websites.