Digital divide increasing rest home loneliness

Photo: File.

Rest homes and retirement villages around New Zealand are looking after their residents more than usual to ensure they stay connected to the community during lockdown.

But some are still feeling lonely as they struggle to use modern technology to communicate with their much-missed friends and family.

Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb says the digital divide is making life increasingly difficult.

"This could be just getting access to food, to prescription medicines, being able to pay bills, all of these sorts of things, what we sort of take for granted."

"We get lots of messages from the government, and other agencies to say you can do your online shopping, or you can get help online, or you can process payments online.

"Not only is that not helpful to an older person who has no access to a smart device or a computer or has no Wi-Fi in their house. It's also, if you like, rubbing salt into the wound, because it's pretty much telling them that you are marginalized, and you have no help and everybody else is going to be OK."

He says they are seeing more mental distress with this lockdown.

"These are fear or anxiety and a real worry all way through to people thinking they just can't bear to carry on. It is that severe in some cases."

Under level 3 and 4 retirement villages are largely closed to visitors.

The only visitors who are being allowed in are those visiting residents in palliative and end of life care.

Ryman Healthcare chief operations officer Cheyne Chalmers says they are doing everything in their power to keep residents as safe and happy as possible.

"One of the first things that we did was communicate with our village team members and our village residents and said to them, look, this means that you need to pretty much stay where you are.

"We will make sure that you have everything that you need. We'll bring you groceries if you're living in our independent living environment, we'll set up Zoom calls if you're in our care environment so that you can talk to your families and your loved ones."

Ninety-five percent of the residents at Ryman Healthcare rest homes are fully vaccinated, with close to 95 per cent of the workers also fully vaccinated.

They have also implemented bubbles within the rest homes.

"In a rest home where you might have 40 residents broken down into 20 on one side and 20 on the other, so they are able to be together," Chalmers says.

"We still do social distancing, hand hygiene, because we know where everyone's been and so we essentially care for them in that group and that becomes the bubble.

"We have the same team members looking after them all the time, so those team members don't move anywhere else in the village, they only care for those residents when they're on shift."

Chalmers says they are also providing residents with plenty of entertainment in lockdown, including delivering a 'happy hour in a bag' every Friday.

"We've done a deal with our wine distributor, and we've got lots of little bottles of wine and little treats, chippies and things and that goes in a little bag. And then our team write a note and then we take them around and drop them outside all of our residents' door."

Kerry King, 92, lives at St Johns Pah rest home in Epsom.

He said although lockdown is dull, he keeps himself busy.

"I've got every kind of entertainment. Some TV, Netflix, audio books, ordinary books to read. I phone the family, they phone me."

He says the hardest thing about lockdown is not being able to see his friends and family.

"I have a friend Margaret who I speak to every day. When there's no lockdown we go out and she comes and takes me out and so I do miss her a lot.

"And then the family, my daughter Rosemary and my son Walter. I've got a great grandson, he's the newest addition to the family. He's the most interesting at the moment, but of course I never see him now so all of that is gone.

No family visits, no Margaret. I phone her everyday but it's no substitute."

But he's fortunate to have meals provided for him as he finds using modern technology difficult.

"I'm a little bit too late for the modern technology and fortunately I don't have to order food, so you know it's only the phone and the entertainment things, but sometimes I get it wrong."

Retired Olympic weightlifter Precious Mackenzie lives at Settlers Lifestyle village in Albany.

He is locked down alone from his family and can only speak to them over the phone.

"You learn to live on your own, and because my wife is in in care herself, she's going through dementia.

"So I'm in my home alone, which the saddest part of course, is that I should have taken lessons from her before she got dementia to cook for myself. But anyway, I'm getting away with it."

He has been watching the Paralympics to pass the time in lockdown.

"They've done a very good job, yes, our athletes have done very, very well. I'm really proud of them."

Meanwhile, Kevin Lamb says if you have an elderly relative, there's one simple thing you can do, just give them a ring.

"We've called thousands of people during this lockdown just to make sure that they're OK, and we actually ask them 'would you like us to call you on a regular basis?' and then we do.

"For some people they say no, it's fine if I need anything, I'll call you, but just knowing there's someone out there that's the key difference.

"It's making sure we respond to what the old person in our lives want. If they want us to call every day. Let's do that. If they're happy to call us, but know, we're there to help, that's fine too."

-RNZ/Ella Stewart.

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