Connecting online can help prevent social isolation and loneliness in older people. We explore how – and what’s involved.
Aged care and smart technologies
New tech devices that can help create a more connected environment
In 2018, over 170,000 New Zealanders over the age of 65 lived alone. But despite older adults being more digitally connected than ever before, they remain vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. Throw a global pandemic in the mix and you have some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens – people in residential aged care – quite literally cut off from the outside world. While nothing will ever beat talking to a loved one in person, with a little help from new technologies, residents can stay connected.
The importance of connection in aged care facilities
Moving into an aged care facility can affect a person’s ability to remain connected to their family, friends and local community. The facility might not be in a neighbourhood they’re familiar with, they might not be able to travel, or the distance could be a barrier for regular visits from loved ones.
Research shows that social connectedness and participation are related to health and mortality – as well as quality of life. Those with lower levels of social connectedness and participation are at higher risk of:
• high blood pressure
• heart disease
• a weakened immune system
• anxiety and/or depression
• cognitive decline
• Dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, and
• sometimes death.
Reconnecting residents through technology
Further research explores how new technologies can be used to bridge that social gap for aged care residents to enhance their wellbeing and quality of life. Here are just three of the technologies we see doing that.
Social technologies and communication tools
Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing restrictions have forced most aged care residents into involuntary hibernation. That means missing countless birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, births and funerals – and for many older adults, the chance for social interaction with family and friends.
Social technologies and videoconferencing apps facilitate a sense of connection and let aged care residents virtually attend events that they might otherwise miss. Even one weekly video conference with a family member can have a positive impact.
Keeping the older generation connected isn’t just about communication with people outside the home but fostering enriching and engaging activities. Some aged care facilities have deployed virtual reality headsets into their homes, offering residents a chance to escape the four walls, without having to physically leave. The immersive quality of VR makes it particularly powerful tool. Residents can participate in activities they’re no longer physically capable of or relive past experiences.
But virtual reality can be quite frightening, so staff need to carefully monitor how residents respond – and watch for any signs of distress or discomfort.
Bring your own devices
Of course, not all aged care providers will have access to virtual reality headsets, not all residents will want to use them, and not all care staff will have time to facilitate these activities.
What’s more likely is a family member or friend will bring in a device like a mobile phone or iPad – or perhaps there’s a computer on-site they have access to. Calls, texts and emails make it easy to share photos and messages in a safe and simple environment.
But as is with any new technology, introducing these systems into aged care doesn’t come without barriers.
For starters, you need fast, reliable internet access. There’s the training and time required to ensure you get the most use out of the tech and the ongoing support that staff and residents need to access appropriate tools. In most other cases, technology improves efficiency. In aged care where there is often a lack of resources and overstretched care staff, the opposite is more common.
IT support for aged care facilities
At Isometric, we’re passionate about creating hardware and software systems that improve residents’ quality of life, while simplifying and optimising day-to-day operations for staff. To ensure aged care residents aren’t cut off from the world, it’s crucial that care staff are provided with the tools, training and time to use technology like this effectively in the future too. We design and implement systems that meet the needs of your residents, caregivers and staff – and can help build the capacity within your team to confidently facilitate access to online resources – and therefore more frequent social interactions.
Need help implementing an IT strategy and infrastructure for your aged care facility? Get in touch with the Isometric team.