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Supporting seniors with technology difficulties during a pandemic

Helping: “I can genuinely say we have helped a lot more people to become more confident users.”

HAVE you tried turning it off and on again?

It’s a common solution to a persistent tech issue, but when it comes to providing IT support to seniors during the pandemic, Rod Bush says families can’t just rely on the wonders of a power button.

Mr Bush is the president of the Pastoral Healthcare Network Australia, a health ministry founded by Catholic parish nurse Leonie Rastas.

He’s also the driver of one of PHNA’s newer programs for seniors, a tech support training program teaching older Australians how to use smartphones and tablets.

Mr Bush said the program was the result of research into elderly isolation, a phenomenon that was apparent well before the coronavirus pandemic.

“We try to deal with various forms of grief and isolation is one of them and the elderly isolation,” Mr Bush said.

“Clearly there were cases where the elderly were disadvantaged from this aspect, with no life experience of what technology can do.”

Using two grants from the Sisters of Mercy, PHNA purchased five iPads that would be on-loan to seniors for up to one year, with the promise of providing face-to-face training on how to use the device.

There were some clear success stories after the first year, with a number of iPad users become “completely fluent users” of smartphones, excelling in the use of apps, emails, phone and text messaging.

“I can genuinely say we have helped a lot more people to become more confident users,” Mr Bush said.

Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to the PHNA’s tech program for seniors for now, so the onus is now on younger family members to offer IT support, ideally in person, as long as it meets state-based COVID-19 restrictions.

“Until we can go and visit again, it’s a bit problematic,” Mr Bush said.

“Family members would be the way to go there.”

Mr Bush said while some seniors might be anxious about new technologies, most were willing to learn in a safe, patient and slow-paced environment.

“Go slowly,” Mr Bush said.

“A lot of that age group like to write things down.

“You have to go slow enough so they can write things down.”

Seniors also learn better when they try working out steps for themselves, so “avoid trying to do things for them, even if they muck it up”.

“And when you see frustration levels or fear levels come into the discussion, stop straight away,” Mr Bush said. 

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