Aged care facilities failing to meet residents' digital needs

New InternetNZ-backed study

With people at every age likely to be plugged into the Internet and social media a study undertaken by Auckland University of Technology has revealed aged care facilities in New Zealand doing little to enable residents to get online.

The study, The Social Connectedness of Older People in Residential Aged Communities, funded by InternetNZ, surveyed 80 aged care residents in Auckland with an average age of 86 years. Those interviewed said aged care facilities seldom provided Wi-Fi access for residents, and the majority were not aware of any computers being available in common areas.

"Residential aged care operators currently appear to be relatively divorced from ensuring residents’ online social interactions are maximised, although family members were keen for aged care facilities to become involved and provide opportunities for residents to become digitally connected," the study reported.

The study aimed to fill what it said was a gap in knowledge about older adults’ efforts to retain their social connectedness when they move into an aged care facility.

"Use of internet-based technologies, in particular, remains largely invisible, with residents not included in many surveys and reports at a population level," it said.

"In addition, research endeavours seem to have ignored efforts by family members or friends to continue social contact using new communication technologies once an older person has entered an aged care community.

"There is, therefore, very little information on internet-based technology use in the residential aged care sector, and whether there is a need or desire for that use to be expanded."

The study found that family and friends played a key role in enabling aged care residents to get online, and wanted aged care operators to play a more active role in providing access to digital technologies along with technical support.

The lead researcher for the study, Dr Wendy Wrapson, senior research fellow at AUT’s National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research, said some newer facilities were starting to cater for the changing communication needs of their residents.

"Things are moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before computer access is available to everyone. This deficit is particularly concerning for residents who don’t have family and friends to support their technology use, and who risk being digitally excluded,” she said.

She said study participants also reported difficulties finding devices suitable for failing eyesight and arthritic hands.

“Technology is largely targeted at the youth market, but our research suggests that an opportunity exists for developers to meet the needs of the rapidly growing older demographic."

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