How do we get older Australians using technology in their home?


Chris Gray

Director, Agnes Health

Why do we need to get older Australians onto screens?

(Before I start, I realise I need to spend less time staring at my phone and get my head up from my laptop. I am not sure that helps my argument that we need to help older Australians have more screen time!)

2020 has exacerbated the systematic challenges within the aged care sector. As aged care services have been disrupted, many older people and care providers have turned to technology. A recent presentation, by Adam Jahnke from Umps, highlighted the pandemic may be driving a reduction in the digital divide between older Australians and the rest of our community.

What is the Digital Divide?

Australia’s digital divide can be observed through the Digital Inclusion Index. The Index measures levels of digital inclusion across different cohorts in Australia.

The Index has consistently shown that older Australians are among the most digitally excluded in our society. What’s worse, the chart below shows this divide widened between 2014 and 2018, before plateauing in 2019.

Why might there be a change to this trajectory?

Announcements made earlier this year by the Federal Government on the use of CHSP funds to increase the uptake of technology by older Australian’s in their own home could be the catalyst for change.

Under these mechanisms, aged care providers could use unspent CHSP funding to offer internet connectivity, tablets and personal monitoring equipment. Access to the internet and digital services is a significant component of the Digital Inclusion Index, and these measures should reduce the digital divide.

As the current reporting period for CHSP services comes to a close, we will get a better picture of the number of devices deployed under these initiatives.

Older people are seeking out opportunities to use technology

From the demand side, as early as March, we saw evidence telling us that older people were shifting their lives online to cope with the changes brought by COVID-19, also helping to close the digital divide. As COVID-19 isolated older people, Lively launched a package that offered free, practical support to older Australians.

In March and April, more than 50% of enquiries that Lively received requested support with technology. Some of the most common requests included help learning how to use Zoom and other video technology to stay connected with friends and family, using email, connecting new devices or the internet for the first time and simply managing daily affairs online, including shopping.

Lively observed a clear upswing in the number of older people who were interested in accessing technology help, having recognised the value that technology could offer them during the lockdown period.

Why is it important we close the digital divide for older Australians?

When older Australians have better access to technology it creates opportunities for innovative care models to be implemented. The uptake of telehealth, remote patient monitoring and virtual visits are examples of this. While technology will never replace high-touch care, the pandemic has demonstrated its value in supporting older and vulnerable Australians to remain connected in their own homes and enabling new care models to emerge.

Things feel like they are moving in the right direction. I am looking forward to seeing the data as it emerges to support this.

Stay safe and connected.

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