The number and proportion of older people in Australia’s population is growing rapidly. Many of them are growing old alone.
From 1964 to 2014 there was a ninefold increase in the number of people aged 85 and over, up to 456,600 or 1.9 per cent of the population. Based on population projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), by 2064 there will be 1.9 million people aged 85 and over, 5 per cent of the population. Nearly a quarter of citizens, the ABS predicts, will be aged 65 or over.
Older Australian’s are in good health. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world. But living longer brings other risks to well-being: loneliness, depression and anxiety.
The danger is very real: in 2013, men aged 85 and over had the highest rate of suicide of any age group in Australia, according to ABS data.
According to mental health charity Beyond Blue, staying connected to family, friends and the community is especially important for older generations. But when Facebook, Skype, Google and email are completely foreign terms, staying connected is more difficult. Lack of familiarity with technology is a big part of the problem.
That’s now about to change, as a major aged care provider – Catholic Healthcare – launches a pilot to put the web into the hands of hundreds of its elderly clients. The impact has already been profound, for both the clients and the CIO leading the project, Corey Snell.
“It was beautiful to watch. Our first client Vince, 91-years old, had never used a computer before,” Snell says. “Watching Vince establish a Skype call with his grandson in Canada…it was heartwarming. It was absolutely gold.”
Window to the world
Catholic Healthcare operates 41 residential aged care centres and 10 retirement living communities in New South Wales and southern Queensland. An increasing number of its clients – some 6,500 – however, prefer to remain living in their own homes.
“How can we enable people to stay in the home longer? That’s one of the crucial elements,” says Snell. “And we want to address challenges like social isolation and loneliness and boredom.”
To supplement the regular visits made by its community carers, the not-for-profit is beginning to roll-out internet-connected Samsung tablets, loaded with Breezie software that makes them far easier to use, with no prior experience. It plans to have 100 devices out in time for Christmas.
For users, Breezie provides simplified versions of apps and services which can be customised further for those with poor eyesight or conditions such as arthritis which can make some screen gestures, such as pinch and zoom, more difficult.
The platform allows family members and caregivers the ability to add apps and contacts and provide remote support.
“When you try and arrange say a Skype call with an older relative, and you’re not with them, trying to help them get everything set up and enabled so they can actually do that is really challenging. Having the capability to do that in an easy way, and being able to configure those sorts of thing remotely, is a real enabler,” says Snell.
“Similarly, if there’s an app that you think would be of real benefit, not having to go and install that, being able to install remotely is quite powerful.”
This is the first major Australian roll-out of Breezie, which is built upon Samsung’s KNOX enterprise security platform.
“It gives you the ability to very deeply dive in, almost to the operating system level,” says Snell. “On top of that having the security, the MDM capabilities and the flexibility from an API perspective. And the way Breezie has been architected, this is really important for me. I need to be able to seamlessly, take different technologies from different providers and thread them together.”
Snell will be deploying a client portal in the new year, to provide Catholic Healthcare community clients with even more independence.
This will allow caregivers to push health and wellness messages while clients will be able to easily access their care schedules, bills and information on other services they can receive. There are also plans to leverage the Internet of Things to improve care. Getting the tablets to be as used and useful as possible is crucial.
“If we can make it so people want to use those devices because they are useful to them, have the information they need, the apps they want to use, and we can also thread in the things we would like them to do from a business perspective – then it is technology that actually gets used rather than sits in the corner gathering dust,” says Snell.
Once they get online, older people fully embrace the potential. Research from NBN Co last month found that of Australian grandparents with access to the internet, 93 per cent used it every day. Nearly three quarters could no longer imagine their life without it. Most importantly, 85 per cent agreed that the internet made them feel more connected.
As one Breezie user put it: “I don’t feel alone in the house anymore”.
“I’m really passionate about overcoming that traditional hurdle of having older Australians being able to engage with and embrace technology,” says Snell. “This is a group of people that have largely been forgotten by technology.”