More than 80 per cent of Australians over the age of 65 use the internet daily to stay connected with family, friends and online communities, new research by aged care provider The Whiddon Group has shown.
According to the survey, half of Australians aged over 65 experience feelings of loneliness either all or some of the time.
The most common reasons for experiencing these feelings are not knowing enough people in the neighbourhood and a lack of transport or mobility acting as a barrier to getting out and about in the community – both challenges that a proficiency in online activity can help to overcome.
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“The internet and social media is prevalent in all walks of life today for people of all ages and is an avenue we are continuing to explore as a means of supporting our residents to stay connected with loved ones and the community,” Executive General Manager Strategy & Research Karn Nelson said.
Technology and computers have been part of Chris McNeil’s life for nearly 30 years and are tools that she says make her life both easier and safer. Chris, now 68 years old, began using computers back in 1988 and has found that technology plays a more important role in her life now than perhaps she imagined it would.
Chris McNeil was severely injured in a motor vehicle accident 23 years ago. The accident left her with physical and mental injuries affecting her cognitive abilities.
Chris believes that her familiarity and interest in computers and technology prior to her accident, and her ongoing interest after her accident, has helped her to regain motor skills, retrain her brain and stay connected to family and friends.
“It helped bring me back from where I had been,” Chris said.
"Before the accident, I had a healthy IQ; which was diminished, as well as my memory, for some time after my physical injuries had healed. I began my journey back by playing solitaire on the computer and slowly, with the help of one of my sons, I became proficient once more with my computer and then the internet. I took what I had learned from my son and plodded on myself."
While Chris was an early adopter of technology, she uses the internet and social media differently now that she lives at Whiddon Laurieton, a residential aged care home on NSWs Mid North Coast.
From paying her bills online, online shopping and staying up to date with the latest news, to catching up with family and friends on Facebook and staying in touch with emails, using the internet is incredibly important to Chris and helps her stay connected.
"I use online banking and shopping, online news, Paypal and Ebay to make my life easier and safer, and I use Facebook and email to stay in touch with people – I email my sister and old friends who live in other areas, and talk to my sons in Perth and Brisbane on Facebook."
Chris believes that her online activities help her stay more connected and feel less lonely.
"I am bipolar and feeling that I have a purpose and am busy is important to me. Being on the computer means I don’t have time to be lonely, I don’t know what I’d do without it," Chris shared.
"Today, I am kept busy with a variety of tasks. I write regular articles for our newsletter at Whiddon Laurieton, create menus and activities schedules into MP4s to display them for other residents to see on our big display TV at the care home and develop posters and flyers for other residents here at the home about movie days, theme days and special events."
Chris’ story shows how engagement with the internet and social media can transform people’s lives, aiding in rehabilitation, keeping them connected to the people and interests that matter to them and supporting meaningful activity and purpose. It demonstrates how valuable a tool it can be in supporting well-being in aged care services.