With restrictions on visits to aged care facilities to help stop the spread of coronavirus, how can older people stay connected with loved ones?

The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on aged facilities across Australia.

At least 17 aged care facilities have already been hit with the virus, while all unannounced visits have been postponed indefinitely. The Department of Health has also issued a number of additional  restrictions focused on aged care staff protocols and visitors.

With most of the country in lockdown, where does this leave the residents, who ­– according to a University of Melbourne study – may already have been experiencing a sense of disengagement living in an aged care facility?

Human-computer interaction experts from the university have studied the use of technology in the aged care sector to come up with ways it can be used to provide social and emotional enrichment for residents, particularly during the coronavirus lockdown.

These technologies range from relatively simple solutions, such as videoconferencing to connect residents with family, to more sophisticated programs, such as immersive virtual reality (VR).

Ageing and technology expert and project co-lead Dr Jenny Waycott told newsGP technology-based programs can be used to alleviate boredom or to provide distraction.

‘Like other members of the community, aged care residents are at risk of social isolation during this pandemic,’ she said.

‘They may also be experiencing boredom because many of the group and volunteer-run activities will be on hold as visits from volunteers, as well as family and friends, have been curtailed.

‘For people living in aged care [facilities] who normally have regular visits from family and friends, they will be wondering why the visits have stopped. Using technology to communicate with family and friends will help to alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness … [as well as for] when people are feeling agitated and anxious.’

Dr Waycott has also been looking at immersive VR as an option for aged care residents to stay engaged and entertained.

‘Over the past few years some aged care providers have started to include VR in their activities program. Immersive VR is particularly appealing for aged care because it is 3D and can make you feel as though you have really travelled to another place,’ she explained.

‘In this way, VR seems to bring the outside world into the confined physical world of an aged care home.’

Original article can be found on RACGP website: https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/facilitating-connections-in-aged-care-during-lockd