“I’m no technology whiz and if I can do it, anyone can.”
Her message comes as new research finds that Australians above the age of 70 have been more isolated during the pandemic than any other age group.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies released on Thursday the latest report on its Life During COVID-19 survey, which asked more than 7000 people in May and June how they were coping with the crisis.
Overall, while 93 per cent of survey respondents said they spoke to family at least once a week, more than a third said they found it harder.
Seniors had the least contact with loved ones, with only about a quarter of respondents aged over 70 saying they had daily contact with family, compared to 40 per cent of people under 40.
People over 70 were also twice as likely to go a full week without talking to family.
“It’s a big difference,” says AIFS director Anne Hollonds, who explains that “it isn’t a natural step [for older people] to do everything using technology”, and they are less likely to have the support to learn during social distancing restrictions.
She adds that this is amplified by the fact that a lot of seniors live alone and are less likely to be leaving their homes because of COVID-19 fears.
It’s a timely reminder to regularly connect with elderly loved ones, Hollonds says.
Farrington, from Mont Albert in Melbourne, says she used to see her grandchildren, Jasmine, 3, and Jordan, 10 months, regularly before the pandemic.
“I miss them terribly. Every time I see pictures or videos, I just want to hug them. It makes my heart break.”
But the reading videos, she says, have helped. Jasmine would watch them when tucked in bed.
“I felt like I was there with her even though I couldn’t see her.”
She says she has been lucky to have children who could show her the ropes, and she hopes other young people can do the same for their older relatives.
“A lot of elderly people would benefit if someone just spent a bit of time setting it up for them,” she says.
The AIFS report finds phone calls and text messages were the most-used methods of communication for all Australians, but only about a third of people over 70 were using video calls – about half the number of respondents aged under 40.
“If you have an older person who wants to learn video calls and is up for it, then teach them. But if they’re just as happy having a chat on the phone, do that,” Hollonds says.
She urges people to check in on elderly relatives or neighbours.
“Just do it. And keep doing it. Because you know it is helping their mental wellbeing,” she says.
She also encourages seniors to not be shy in asking for help.
Dr Torgeir Aleti co-leads Shaping Connections, a project of RMIT and University of the Third Age, and says many older people have been looking to upskill with technology since COVID-19 hit.
To learn, he recommends seniors talk to others their age or use resources from an organisation such as University of the Third Age or a local library.
“Don’t focus on the technology, focus on the desired outcome. ‘What do I want? I want to talk to my grandchild’. Not ‘I want to learn to use Skype’,” he says. “Let the technology become secondary.”
Sophie is Deputy Lifestyle Editor for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.