Technology to reduce isolation in aged care should be designed to meet the needs of residents and complement in-person contact, ongoing University of Melbourne research looking at the use of technology during the pandemic has found.

The study, which commenced at the end of last year, investigated the use, benefits and challenges of technology such as video calls and virtual conferences for social connection in aged care during COVID-19.

It involved interviews with 14 staff members of aged care homes in Victoria and Queensland   including lifestyle coordinators, managers and people working in information technology roles.

Lead researcher and University of Melbourne PhD candidate Wei Zhao said social isolation and loneliness remained prevalent issues in aged care.

Wei Zhao

“We found from our study that technologies can be used creatively to mitigate the negative effects [of isolation], but it needs to be designed carefully in order to fit the needs,” Mr Zhao told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Mr Zhao, who will present the early findings at the AAG conference next week, said there has been an increase in the adoption and acceptance of technologies during the pandemic.

Benefits include more opportunities for residents to participate in meaningful activities and for families to engage with aged care homes, he said.

“There were lots of social groups turning to online forms because of lockdowns… we had a singing group… and training classes. Those things provided opportunities for groups and enrichment activities to be held,” Mr Zhao.

“There were some meetings they held regularly [but] usually only local families can attend. But since it was made online, more family members were joining in.”

Implementation challenges  

However, the challenges identified busy staff and a lack of personalised experiences for residents.

“There was an issue of staff fatigue because of the workload they had during the pandemic… So it’s very hard for them to provide help for technology to be used,” Mr Zhao said.

“We had some participants complaining about video communication. Video can never replace in-person conversations,” Mr Zhao said.

“Online tools are complements not replacements. They can be useful complements for enrichment, and communication… but they can never replace in-person communication. Sometimes they can even be confusing for people, for example, people with dementia,” he said.

Mr Zhao said staff needed more training with technology to better support residents.

“Staff facilitation is very important,” he said. “We need to find a way to balance their workload and the need to facilitate those technologies,” Mr Zhao said.

The AAG Conference takes place as a virtual event on 9 – 12 November.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG.

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2 Comments

  1. I am curious why QLD was included in the study when they have spent less time in the study than NSW. Would there have not been more value in interviewing staff and residents from aged care services in NSW who have been just as impacted by lockdowns as in VIC? You may find the staff in NSW have been equally created and had difficulty also.

  2. Hi JS, we are not limiting the states of participants we are investigating, as long as there are impacts of COVID-19. If you know people working in aged care in NSW and would like to share their experiences with us, please contact me at [email protected].

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