Isolation brings connection—a Covid silver lining for seniors

Sue Linden using her iPhone to text her granddaughter. Picture: Annabelle Phillips
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Learning how to use apps like FaceTime has been a boost for older people wanting to connect more with family and community. Annabelle Phillips reports.

An unexpected silver lining of Covid-19 has been an increase in the uptake of technology—and the ability to connect—for senior citizens.

Amaroo Aged Care special projects coordinator Kim Arnold said FaceTime had become the new normal for aged care residents to communicate with their families.

“We now using FaceTime and Zoom for things like physio appointments, listening to talking books, attending funerals residents couldn’t access otherwise,” she said.

As soon as we successfully implemented the technology, we noticed immediate change in residents’ mindsets.

Melbourne resident Sue Linden, 80, said she used FaceTime for the first time during lockdowns.

“I knew if I wanted to have face-to-face contact with my grandchildren, I would just have to try harder to understand how to get FaceTime to work,” she said.

“It meant pushing myself to learn whereas previously I would have just put it in the too-hard basket.”

Isolation brings connection—a Covid silver lining for seniors
An Amaroo Aged Care resident using her iPad to listen to an audio book. Picture: Annabelle Phillips.

A study by social behaviour researchers Shaping Connections last year showed 44 per cent of people aged over 65 experienced social exclusion—twice the rate suffered by other age groups.

Victoria’s lockdowns became a prompt for aged care facilities to look at how they could use technology to help residents overcome their grief at not having their regular visits from loved ones.

Ms Arnold said residents were reluctant at first to embrace the new technology.

“They had never even considered FaceTime, Skype or any social media as something they could learn and use themselves,” she said.

“Initially the residents weren’t very happy and there were barriers as they were against it, but as time wore on it became more appealing.”

With the encouragement of families, tech-savvy employees were able to sit down with and train the residents.

Then residents were able to teach each other, which built increased connection.

RMIT marketing expert Dr Torgeir Aleti is leading a study that looks at ways to continue diminishing the social exclusion gaps experienced by senior Australians.

“Connectedness enhances older adults’ wellbeing and has a positive effect on their physical and mental health,” he said in a report for Shaping Connections.