Common practices that migrants use to care for their family and friends across distance include establishing a routine; setting a particular schedule, day and time, and mode of communication, helps everyone to not only stay in touch regularly, but to feel less anxious about whether they are doing enough to stay in touch. It can reduce feelings of guilt and pressure about how often we need to check in on each other (check out our blog for more tips).
Our ‘digital by default’ world and the current pandemic
The directive to socially distance and socially isolate has affected older people’s ability to meet their basic needs. In the early stages of the pandemic, older people faced significant challenges around accessing food and basic supplies. The Federal Government responded swiftly by working alongside grocery suppliers to ensure dedicated shopping times for older people and priority access to online and telephone shopping.
Whilst this came into effect relatively quickly, some older people nevertheless faced a number of challenges. Many older people struggle to access online shopping portals and navigate the food delivery system.
The Federal Government has also established the Home Medicine Service which enables older people to have their prescription medicines delivered to the home from their pharmacy via Australia Post. For those unable to access these services, My Aged Care (the Australian government’s aged care portal) offers a dial-in service to link older people with relevant support services.
Furthermore, Council on the Ageing has identified that some older people are unable to pay for goods and services online or over the phone since they do not have debit/credit cards nor the capability to do online banking transactions. To address this, Australian banks have begun issuing debit cards to assist with purchases during the pandemic. Research shows that many older people have serious safety and security concerns relating to cybercrime. It remains to be seen how effective this bank initiative is in assisting older people.
As health information and services are increasingly delivered online, including the vast majority of health information on COVID-19, as well as the national My Aged Care. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the danger of the digital divide that separates many Australians.
Many older people have neither the capacity nor the resources to be supported via the internet. They are not digital natives, many are at risk of being digital outcasts and this makes them especially vulnerable during the pandemic.
At the same time, technological innovation – when developed as an intrinsic part of social relationships – is providing some of the most effective ways of meeting the challenges of ageing, in particular around isolation, loneliness and appropriate services. This is clearly pertinent to the current pandemic, when people need to stay socially connected using digital tools. Co-designing technological solutions with older people, their families and carers that facilitate the digital literacy of older people is critical, both now and into the future.
Loretta Baldassar is Professor in the Discipline Group of Anthropology and Sociology at The University of Western Australia and Director of the recently launched UWA Social Care and Social Ageing Living Lab.
Loretta wishes to thank Dr Lukasz Krzyzowski and Dr Mariana Atkins for their valuable contributions to this piece.