Technology helped mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on home care recipients and keep them socially connected during periods of enforced isolation, research has found.
A study by researchers from Macquarie University’s Centre for Health Systems and Safety Research looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the quality of life and social networks of older Australians receiving community care.
Twenty-one people were surveyed in 2018, 2019 and during the first COVID lockdown in 2020, the researchers report in the Australasian Journal on Ageing,
The participants were aged between 79 and 90, described themselves as dementia-free, and were established users of home care including day care centres, social support and in-home nursing.
A surprise finding
The study showed the “immediate collateral consequences” of the COVID outbreak, including that quality of life dropped significantly during the pandemic compared to the previous year.
But lead researcher Dr Joyce Siette told Community Care Review that while the team had expected to discover a drop in quality of life, there was also a surprise finding.
“Our results were unusual – quality of life did drop over time but social networks did not,” she said.
“We found that home care recipients had moderate social networks at each time point and that there was no significant decline over time.
“This is rather surprising as normally older adults’ social networks become smaller over time.”
Dr Siette believes this is related to the use of technology to keep up social connections during the lockdown period.
The study showed that during lockdown more than 90 per cent of those surveyed used technology to keep in contact with family and friends.
Fourteen per cent adopted new technology , most commonly video communication platforms like Zoom, and more than half of the participants in the study rated the importance of tech in keeping in touch as important or very important.
“We suggest that research and resources need to be placed on developing and adopting technology-based options to connect home care individuals with others,” Dr Siette says.
“Home care providers need to know that technology-enabled means to support social connections, such as Facetime, Whatsapp, social media, are also necessary to support wellbeing in the short-term.”
The study says that government messages and support initiatives directed towards older adults receiving home care can also help keep them social connected during periods of enforced isolation as occurred during Covid.
Long term effects
The research notes that the COVID -19 outbreak profoundly altered the daily life of older adults, who are also more vulnerable to the long-term effects of physical distancing and social isolation.
Home care recipients are at increased risk because they are likely to be older, more socially isolated, suffering from multiple chronic conditions, and in need of assistance with daily tasks.
The study says the “pervasive” psychological and social effects of the COVID‐19 pandemic could affect individual well‐being into the future.
This could include depression, anxiety and impaired quality of life lasting for years.
“Our recent findings highlight the challenge of, but need for, health promotion efforts to maintain wellbeing in aged care older adults,” Dr Siette says.
“The future of aged care should be in a technology enabled environment to enable efficient clinical, business and operational systems. These systems need to be designed to identify older people’s needs and preferences, to provide care tailored to their needs – and be able to respond flexibly in times of crises.”
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