Have you noticed the rapid shift that many seniors have had to make into using new technology over the past two months? I look to my own mother as an example.

Old active bearded man taking selfie with mobile phone isolated on white background

At 83 she has embraced the changes, some with more enthusiasm than others I have to admit, but still, as someone who initially was dismissive of her daughters’ concerns around the COVID-19 outbreak, her adherence to Government guidelines of self-isolating for over 70-year-olds has been exemplary. This, of course, has meant that she is home more; no more catch ups with friends for quilting sessions or face-to-face visits to her family. How is she to keep in touch? How is she to do her banking or shopping?

Enter the internet.

Like many seniors, mum has had little need for the internet, and while she’s actually probably been more connected than some, as she has used a smartphone and an iPad for a few years, her use of the internet has been via hotspotting her iPad to her phone to access the odd email or Facebook.

However, this past month has seen her using Zoom and FaceTiming her family, and with the internet now connected to the home she can access streaming services and binge watch The Crown should she desire. Next up will be setting up internet banking and shopping, one step on from setting up the direct payments for bills that she moved to last month.

With all these changes though, and the concerns that she has around security, there needs to be some sort of education for seniors, but how to access this during a time of isolation? Enter the Federal Government's $47 million Digital Literacy for Older Australians “Be Connected” initiative.

I was really pleased to see the following information about training for seniors arrive in my inbox this week.

Digital Literacy for Older Australians

Free daytime webinars are now available to help improve the online skills of seniors as they increasingly turn to the internet to access online services and connect with loved ones during the pandemic.

These online courses are being delivered by the eSafety Commissioner as part of the Federal Government's $47 million Digital Literacy for Older Australians “Be Connected” initiative. Hosted by professional eSafety Commissioner trainers, the courses will offer participants guidance to help build basic online skills and confidence to carry out video chats, telehealth, shopping and banking.

The classes feature key topics specifically for remaining connected while social distancing measures are in place, including:

  • video chatting with family, friends and health professionals
  • ordering groceries and other shopping essentials online for home delivery
  • carrying out everyday tasks online, including accessing essential services
  • accessing Federal Government information updates from australia.gov.au and the Coronavirus Australia app

Those interested can register here.

Grants for the purchase of digital devices and connection

In addition, the Government is also providing $1 million in grants for community organisations to provide digital devices to older Australians.

One-off payments of up to $5,000 allow existing Be Connected Network Partners to purchase and loan digital devices and SIM cards to Australians aged over 50 years. The grants will be managed by Good Things Foundation Australia in their role as Be Connected Network and Grants program manager.

For more information about the program visit beconnected.esafety.gov.au or call the Be Connected Helpline 1300 795 897.

CHSP funding for technology

Also CHSP providers can utilise social support group and individual funding surpluses, should they have any, to purchase communication and monitoring devices for consumers.

On Friday 1st May 2020, the Department advised Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) providers that they may use unspent funds in 2019‑20 to purchase personal monitoring technology for their vulnerable clients, up to the value of $1,000 per client.

Not only can they use funds for personal monitoring devices, organisations are also able to use surplus funds to purchase and provide social support (individual or group), can use grant funds to purchase IT products, such as tablets, smart devices, and internet subscriptions to help connect older people to their family, carers and social groups under existing CHSP grant rules. This is not an option at the moment for CHSP providers not funded to provide social support.

Old active bearded man with digital tablet isolated on white background

Home Care Packages and Technology

To help Home Care Package recipients stay connected with loved ones and their community, Package funds can also be used to:

  • purchase suitable digital technology and video conferencing equipment that meet their needs
  • access assistance in setting up and learning how to use the technology

Further information is available on the department’s website or speak with your Departmental grants manager.

But isn’t the worst over?

COVID-19 has not gone away, the spread in the community has mainly been managed through most Australians adhering to social distancing rules and other Government restrictions. As these restrictions around movement are relaxed and things start to get back to normal – whatever ‘normal’ will look like, there is an expectation that the rates of infection and outbreaks will increase. This is the tradeoff that the Government has been working through with their oft repeated phrase ‘saving lives and saving livelihoods’.

The lockdown can’t continue forever, or even until we have a vaccine, but the lifting of restrictions here in Australia is happening as we move into winter, a time which is traditionally more dangerous for the spread and impact of infections. Seniors in particular will need to remain vigilant and restrict the amount of time they spend in the wider community. Embracing technology will be an important way that seniors can remain connected and continue to manage their lives during this time.

…and with Mother’s Day this Sunday, the likelihood for many of us will be that we won’t be able to visit in person, or expect cards and gifts to arrive in time due to the overload of our postal system. Technology, whether that’s by phone, FaceTime, Zoom, or Messenger, may well be the norm for now.  

For those with parents out there still struggling with change, perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give right now is talking your loved ones through how to use different technology. And for those working to support our elders, keeping on top of the opportunities and funding initiatives to help support your consumers to remain connected will be an important part of your contribution to this legacy and how as a nation, a community, and as individuals – we keep connected.

Stay safe, be kind, and keep connected!

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