Life Tech Tech is helping locked-down seniors beat the COVID-19 blues

Tech is helping locked-down seniors beat the COVID-19 blues

A photo of Anne Williams and her extended family. Anne is third from left in the front row. Annabel is in the navy blue dress, directly to the left behind Anne.
Anne Williams (centre) and granddaughter Annabel (second row, second from left) have used tech to stay connected.
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Like thousands of older Australians, Anne Williams has been living at home alone in social isolation for the past six weeks.

The coronavirus shutdown has forced the 80-year-old Melbourne grandmother to pause her work as a picture framer and physically distance herself from friends and family.

COVID-19 has hit residential aged care homes hard, but older citizens,  living at home independently have also been impacted.

Playing golf and the classic card game bridge with friends are two activities Ms Williams has missed most during the coronavirus lockdown, but she believes the trade-off for staying safe from the deadly virus is worth it.

“I have full confidence that what’s best for us all is what’s being done,” she said.

“It’s short term pain for long term gain, and I think it’s up to all of us to make that work.”

Ms Williams said she has enjoyed using the extra time at home to read books, and pursue activities neglected in the rush of pre-pandemic life.

Families are using video conferencing platforms to beat isolation. Photo: Getty

Technology has also been a useful tool, from FaceTiming with family members to dinner parties over video conferencing platform Zoom.

We’ve certainly done a priceless Zoom with about 14 people involved that was chaotic and fun,” Ms Williams said.

Granddaughter Annabel Williams said she chats over the phone with her grandmother nearly every day, and they have even cooked together remotely.

“The best thing we’ve done together so far was a cooking masterclass. Atlas Dining dropped off all the ingredients and for three nights we both followed the print out recipes, and cooked in sync over Zoom,” she said.

Then we sat down and ate like we would if we were fortunate enough to be sharing the same dinner in the same house.”

Aged care tech helps older people live independently

Aged care technology firms are hoping to help older Australians retain their independence and stay living in their own homes despite the coronavirus pandemic.

David Panter is chief executive of ECH, a not-for-profit specialising in supporting older citizens to live at home for longer, and a board member of aged care app Billy, which uses in-home sensors to keep family members updated via smartphone on their loved ones’ wellbeing. 

The pandemic has “created a scenario where we are experiencing an enhanced sense of community again and remembering what it is like to be neighbourly”, Mr Panter said.

We have seen so many heart-warming examples of people reaching out and supporting older persons on their street or in their community that we may not have otherwise seen without this pandemic. 

“It is vital that we maintain this and continue to support our older people once COVID-19 is over.”

Social isolation is one of the biggest issues facing older Australians living in their own homes, Mr Panter said.

“Staying socially connected and physically active are two of the most vital elements in maintaining a good sense of health and wellbeing for older Australians,” he said.

“COVID-19 has made many of these activities much more difficult and has only enhanced and placed a bigger spotlight on the growing issue of social isolation in our community.”

Many older Australians “may not be digitally connected, which can mean finding ways to connect with the broader community can be more challenging”, Mr Panter said.

“Also going out and getting essential supplies such as groceries and medication can be more difficult for older Australians, as they may not have transport or family members who can assist during this time.”

Technological innovations such as Billy that “intervene when someone is not coping” are “crucial”, Mr Panter said.

“Having real time monitoring of older persons living in their own home not only protects vulnerable people, but also gives essential peace of mind to family members that their loved ones are going about their daily routines in a healthy and predictable pattern,” he said.