Technology is a rapidly changing landscape which can be hard to keep up with at the best of times, but for people who didn’t grow up with the internet and mobile phones, it can be overwhelming. The United Nations International Day of Older Persons 2021 theme “Digital Equity for All Ages” highlights the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons.
Technology has enabled us to be more connected than ever which has become more important in the last couple of years. What used to be occasional expensive long distance phone calls, letters sent by post that would take months to arrive, and news delivered in the daily newspaper, is now face to face zoom calls to anywhere in the world, instant messages, photos and videos, and 24/7 news – all of which cost us nothing.
The pandemic has created distance between loved ones due to restrictions, lockdowns and border closures, and many of us have experienced the heaviness of loneliness. This can be more prevalent in aged care homes where family means so much to the residents who live less busy lives. But wait, how can residents in nursing homes be lonely when they are surrounded by people? Loneliness is about a lack of companionship and having meaningful relationships – quality over quantity.
Before COVID-19 hit Australia, the Minister for Aged Care revealed in 2017 that up to 40% of aged care residents receive no visitors. Social isolation and loneliness are harmful and can shorten older people’s lives. Loneliness can damage their mental and physical health and quality of life, increasing the risk of illnesses such as dementia, cardiovascular disease and depression (WHO 2021).
This is why it’s great to see advancements in technology creating potential solutions within nursing homes. From using virtual reality so the residents can travel around (virtually) and see things they wouldn’t usually be able to and with such ease, to the use of robots, such as robotic dogs that look, feel and act like real dogs and provide companionship where pets are not permitted. Read more about this here: https://www.fifthquadrant.com.au/cx-spotlight-news/6-technologies-changing-aged-care.
How can we help to reduce loneliness amongst older people? By encouraging the use of technology when being physically present might not be an option. Being able to video call with remote family or chat regularly on social media can greatly reduce feelings of loneliness. If your relative is unfamiliar with technology, take some time to teach them basic skills so they can communicate with family members whenever they desire. Just remember to be patient as it may be foreign to them and a lot to take in. We all take time to learn new skills, don’t we?
It’s important to remember that helping residents within aged care facilities use technology is only part of the solution; the other part is communicating with them via the technology. If they send messages but seldom receive replies, this may highlight the feeling of loneliness rather than help it. Most of us know what loneliness feels like so lets try look out for one another.