The current restrictions placed on our social lives offers a prime opportunity for older Australians to take advantage of new technologies aimed at staying socially connected.
That is according to CQUniversity researcher Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow Dr Lynne Parkinson, who says that the use of technology to connect with family and friends during this period will become vital and a welcome new skill for many – and she believes older Aussies are up for the challenge.
“Older people are just as competent with technology as younger people when that technology is introduced in a patient and staged way,” Parkinson explained.
Isolation is nothing new for many aged care residents and loneliness is seen as a growing problem in wider society.
As reported by Time Magazine, former US surgeon general Vivek Murthy calls loneliness a “growing health epidemic”.
In a Harvard Business Review essay, he recalls a study that said social isolation is “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day”.
In an Australian context, one in four of us have reported feeling lonely once a week. While one in two sometimes or always feel alone, with 30 per cent reporting that they don’t belong to a friendship group.
Simon Tatz, Australian Medical Association director of public health, has recently written about the subject.
He cites a Lifeline survey from 2016 that found more than 80 per cent of Australians believe society is becoming a lonelier place.
Tatz also points to research that finds loneliness as a risk factor for early death and “that feelings of loneliness can increase the likelihood of earlier death by 26 per cent”.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many to embrace social media and video-conferencing software, like Zoom and Skype, to have their catchups with friends and family.
Parkinson believes that older Aussies are already well placed to tackle new ways to use technology, and it can simply be a matter of finding a patient teacher.
“I think you’ll find that quite a few older people already have a bit of tech in their home, and it’s actually pretty easy to use the tech that you’ve got. That can be an old computer, could be an old laptop, it can be a tablet if you’ve got one, it can be a smartphone,” says Parkinson.
“We know that 91 per cent of people over 60 in Australia have a smartphone, when that comes to people who are over 80 it’s something like 70 per cent.
“We have just done research to show they can use this tech and they can really get turned onto this tech.”
“It’s not difficult to have a video chat or whatever, it’s really quite easy. They need someone who is patient enough just to go, ‘look, just give this a try’ and take them step by step through what needs to happen for them to get online.
“In our experience they are usually delighted when they actually find that they can use it for all those other purposes in their lives.”
Parkinson argues that, apart the social benefits, older Aussies may be forced to embrace technology for everyday tasks such as paying the bills and shopping.
“So they will have their smartphones, but they are still going to their bank to make deposits,” she says.
“There are people out there who still pay their bills by hand, and I think that’s going to be one of the places where they need to change. They are going to go, ‘oh, I can’t go out, but I do need to go over this techno thing’.
“There has been a certain level of resistance to change no matter what age group you are, but I think one of the issues I have been a bit worried about is people being aged and saying, well older people can’t use this tech.”
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Research indicates that it is often ageism that stops people using technology later in life, and the idea that the brain can’t learn new things as it ages, is false.
Embracing new technology can be an important way to keep the mind sharp and engaged as human contact goes down in times of aged care restrictions.
Parkinson says that aged care facilities are embracing this change but urges homes that are lagging behind to invest in tablets and get residents connected.
“A lot of them already have it, but do invest in that little bit of technology, and they can have that connection with families because that is amazingly important,” she says.
And the government could also help to support older Aussies with this technology transition.
“Rural areas especially still lag behind in access to stable internet access and a remedy for this is urgent.
“Free internet for people over 65 would be excellent.”
Parkinson says that the for the foreseeable future people will be forced to live more of their lives online – online church, online friendships – and people shouldn’t be afraid to have a go.
“These days everything is online and people really do need it, they need it for aged care, they need it for internet banking, and just for me I am thinking, wow, this is just marvellous. It is actually motivation to get online.
“What we have to do is just support them and be really positive and say it’s not going to be easy, but you can do it because we know you can.
“One of the things that we really encourage is lifelong learning and that people can actually learn how to use a computer or tablet when they are 80. There’s no technical reason why that would be a problem, it’s actually very simple.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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