Neighbours and friends can offer digital support to older people

Family, neighbours, friends and work colleagues should take the time to reach out and offer older people support in using digital technologies.


Technologies include video calls, telehealth and online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic, the Global Centre for Modern Ageing (GCMA) has said.


“During this unprecedented time, many people may feel confined to their homes,” said the chief executive officer of the Global Centre for Modern Ageing, 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.


Many older people already own digital devices but are not necessarily using them to their full potential, recent studies show. 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.


Ms Parkinson said recent research by Global Centre for Modern Ageing had highlighted the importance of seven needs for older people: Choice, Safety, Comfort, Access, Independence, Connection, Happiness.


“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.


17 March 2020.