Let’s make something very clear right from the outset – nothing can, or ever will, replace loving and engaging real-life human contact and interactions.
In 2019 though, the vast majority of human interaction is being done online, so much so, that in some ways, it almost seems as if real-life conversations between people only occur when things are unable to be emailed or received via text.
The realms of social media have now become the local gathering point for friends and families alike, and an internet connection and a computer or handheld device are all you need to be able to listen and be heard.
Studies have shown that older people in general, are really starting to utilise the amazing connectivity benefits of the internet.
Skype calls to friends and family members overseas, quick mobile phone calls and texts, and many elderly people are even starting to utilise social media platforms to further engage with others and remain informed.
The majority of older people develop these skills through interacting with friends and members of their families, and many younger adults like myself are amazed at just how quickly the senior demographic have begun to make their mark within the online community.
Unfortunately, new research has shown that there is still one group of society who are still yet to fully harness the benefits of the internet, and they just so happen to be the people that could ultimately benefit the most from it.
Older people living in aged care homes can often feel ostracized from the rest of society, and a number of these people don’t have anyone outside of staff and other residents to engage with.
As people age, their social circles can become smaller due to mobility and transportation issues, or the simple fact that many friends and family members from their age group may have passed away or may be experiencing health problems.
This can lead to social isolation which can result in depression, loneliness and sadly even suicide.
Aged care staff do their best to emotionally engage with residents, but an increase in workload and a lack of time have forced many well-intentioned staff to have to abandon the emotional component of care.
And while actual real-life interaction is always the best case scenario, the increased connectivity and engagement from an online community can really inject some mental stimulation and feelings of self-worth into the life of an aged care resident who is craving interaction.
Mental wellbeing can be hard to gauge given the time restrictions that many aged care staff face with residents, so this can be one aspect of care that can fall by the wayside.
And that’s why aged care providers need to invest in teaching residents how to empower themselves, and seek out their own interests, through the simpler forms of modern technology.
HelloCare sat down with tech expert and CEO of Deloitte Centre for the Edge, Peter Williams, and got his thoughts on some of the ways that aged care providers could utilise modern technology to enrich the lives of their residents.
“What I found in regards to older people using technology is that things got a lot easier with the advent of smartphones, for some, understanding how to turn on a computer and navigate it was all too much, so smartphones have made engaging a lot easier,” said Peter.
“I do lawn bowling, so I spend a lot of time with older people, and they really enjoy online games like Candy Crush and Sudoku, because these games get them thinking, and residents in aged care have a lot of free time on their hands and could benefit from that kind of engagement.”
It is well known that a number of aged care employees feel that their workplace is understaffed, which would obviously hinder the ability for staff to impart their tech knowledge on to residents. Peter Williams believes that this is why the onus is on providers to invest in staffing numbers that would accommodate this kind of learning.
“The vast majority of aged care staff already know how to use a phone or tablet, so you don’t need any kind of tech-guru, this is an opportunity to teach residents to help themselves. Providers need to be investing in things like this – despite the cost,” said Peter.
“Pick one thing to start with; like how you turn on a phone and make a call, next you might involve something of interest to them – so if they’re interested in music maybe you could show them Spotify.”
“You could ask them what songs they loved as a kid and create a playlist, this is something that they can enjoy and something that gets them thinking, because the best way for someone to learn something, is to teach them about something they are passionate about.”
While it may not be overly difficult to find someone with the ability to teach residents about the benefits of basic technology, Peter believes a group setting offers the most benefits and allows residents and employees to learn more about each other.
“Teaching in groups is always good and it can also be fun, imagine running a session with a bunch of residents to find their favourite music and sharing that. Personally, I think that music is very powerful for the mind, and I think that all aged care facilities should have a group subscription to Spotify.”
“A number of elderly people, even those living with dementia, still know their songs, so imagine letting them share that with others within a facility, that is how you create a positive social fabric.”
“Always take things one step at a time, and remember that this is empowering, after a while they will not need you to show them how to get find their music or the news, they will be sitting there listening to it, or reading it for themselves.”