As COVID-19 continues to cause physical and psychological distress for many Australians, a CQUniversity researcher said there could be a silver lining in the crisis as many of the nation’s seniors are forced to learn how to socially connect over the Internet.
Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow Dr Lynne Parkinson said social isolation is not a new problem for many older Australians although the current situation may escalate the challenges they face.
She said the need to use technology to connect with family and friends during this period will become vital and a welcome new skill for many – and they 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,’ says Dr Parkinson.
‘For example, starting with smartphone call capability, then looking at apps, voice only, then onto video.
‘Our research has shown that older people can not only learn new technologies, but they can enjoy them and generalise their use to other parts of their life and interests.
‘There is a great opportunity now for older people to not just connect with family and friends, but to find like-minded people all over the world who share their hobbies and interests, to get fully connected to the outside world.’
Necessary change for our elders
Dr Parkinson believes this crisis is fast-tracking a necessary change for this demographic.
The perception that older people cannot understand or use technology is more about ageism than reality, according to Dr Parkinson.
‘According to Deloitte’s, 91 per cent of people aged 55 or over own a smartphone, and we know from our work with people over the age of 75, they can also get their heads around videoconferencing and find it a very useful tool for social connection.
‘In our experience, the main barriers to using these types of more innovative technologies are fear of getting it wrong and lack of Internet access.
‘A staged approach to introducing apps like Zoom, Skype, and Facebook Messenger seems to work best.’
She said if older people are supported to develop confidence in the use of these tools, they will be quick to adopt the technologies.
‘Where there is strong motivation, such as wanting to attend online religious services, older people would feel more encouraged to try, but may need support to achieve connection.’
A bigger barrier for some older Australians, which is more difficult to overcome, is the lack of Internet access in some areas.
‘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.’
Dr Lynne Parkinson is an Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow undertaking gerontology research at Central Queensland University, with a special interest in reducing social isolation for vulnerable groups, including older carers.
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