The aged care sector has a longstanding reputation for being slow to adopt new technologies.
With the arrival of COVID on Australian shores and the subsequent lockdowns, much of the technology that providers may have previously shied away from became an instant necessity in the struggle to keep residents feeling engaged.
As the head of Information Technology for aged care providers, Jewish Care Victoria, Suzanne Hall and her team were tasked with ensuring that JewishCare residents maintained a strong connection with family members and their faith despite lockdowns.
“Residents aren’t able to enjoy their regular activities and interact with their favourite volunteers in person, so utilising video conferencing was a great way to keep residents connected to the people and culture that means so much to them.”
Speaking at this week’s Aged Care Digital and Technology Transformation Forum in Melbourne, Ms Hall revealed that the traditions of the Jewish holiday Shabbat posed some very unique challenges when it came to religious activities.
We’re a Jewish organisation and our clients are predominantly Jewish, so there is a really big focus on culture and religion, and every week, from the beginning of sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday evening we observe Shabbat, which is the Jewish Sabbath day,” shared Ms Hall.
Using technology is forbidden during Shabbat, so in order to overcome that, but still allow families to come together for their Shabbat celebration, Jewish Care Victoria performed pre-Shabbat services on Friday afternoon before sunset.
“The resident’s families were also coming into these services via video conferencing, which would allow families and residents to see each other and they could all participate in the religious services together.”
Surprising silver lining
Although lockdowns have seemingly come to an end for the general community, COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities continue to thrust residents back into lockdown conditions.
With no physical access to family and friends, Jewish Care Victoria continues to schedule video calls between residents and families.
“Many of our residents have their own mobile phones, laptops and iPads. Some also have their own Smart TVs,” said Ms Hall.
While technology will never replace the level of connection felt by residents during in-person visits to aged care facilities, lockdowns and changes to working conditions across broader society did produce one surprising positive for seniors living in aged care.
“With many people then and now still working from home, more families now have more time available to them, so we continue to schedule family video calls – particularly for residents with family living in Israel or in the United States.”
Regardless of lockdowns, Ms Hall says that video conferences and activities that can be adapted to an online format will continue to be a staple across Jewish Care Victoria facilities.
“We do online yoga, we have volunteers who come and do concerts, we have online arts and crafts sessions, there’s a whole range of activities that we do through video conferencing,” Ms Hall shared with HelloCare.
“Obviously, it’s not the same as in person. But it does have a significant impact on reducing isolation and improving overall happiness and wellbeing because it is still a form of socialisation.”
There has been a noticeable increase in the amount of tech-savvy seniors using smart devices in recent years. This trend is something that Ms Hall has witnessed first hand across Jewish Care Victoria facilities.
With Australia’s rapidly ageing population, increasing digital literacy amongst seniors is essential to ensuring that future generations of elders feel valued and heard in their communities.
“Quite a lot of our residents have their own devices, and they’re improving their digital literacy. We do have quite a lot of programs where our staff work with our residents one on one to improve their digital literacy and to be able to show them how to use the internet and video calling.”
According to Ms Hall, the renewed focus on technology across Jewish Care Victoria facilities has also improved the digital literacy of staff who continually come together to share insights and assist one another with new devices and software.
This collective approach to discovering new technology has also been adopted by residents.
“One really lovely story from one of our facilities was that the residents at this particular home weren’t very digitally literate, but that all changed when one of the residents discovered YouTube,” Ms Hall shared.
“This resident was so amazed by the amount of content on YouTube that he went around and taught other residents at the facility about it. Learning new technology really has become a new opportunity for residents to come together and get connected.”