MercyCare / News / Is digital technology part of the answer to loneliness for older Australians?

Is digital technology part of the answer to loneliness for older Australians?

Kicking-off this month, MercyCare and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) will investigate the impact of using digital technology on depression and loneliness in older people in Residential and Community Aged Care as well as Retirement Living.

“With this trial we hope to empower older Australians to use digital technology via the MercyCare Connect App to engage more easily and more often with their family, friends and community,” MercyCare Aged Care Services Executive Director Joanne Penman said.

“We partnered with QUT as we wanted a study initiative that was robust and evidence-based, where we could prove outcomes and see what was having the biggest impact.

“By creating the MercyCare Connect App specifically designed for seniors, we hope to improve the lives of MercyCare’s service users by improving social interactions, increasing continued engagement with meaningful activity and feeling of being in control.”

Research shows one in five older Australians feels lonely, particularly those aged 75 and over.

Australians that live in residential aged care or alone in their own home with health issues that limit mobility are more likely to experience loneliness. Loss of independence and becoming isolated puts an older person at greater risk of experiencing depression, physical and cognitive decline, and acute health issues, including dementia.

During the study, 75 participants drawn from MercyCare’s Community and Home Support service users across Perth, Rockingham Residential Aged Care and retirees at Mercy Village will each be given a customised tablet with the MercyCare Connect app.

Designed by technology partners CheckedIn Care, the app allows the user to connect with family, friends, community and services, or engage in activities based on the individuals interest.

This could mean making a video call or messaging family; navigating via Google Earth to a village where the user spent their childhood; connecting with the local community’s social calendar; linking and managing their home care appointments, receiving invoices and newsletters.

Each application on the MercyCare Connect App will be tailored to a person’s interest – from cricket apps to radio programs or word games and puzzles to keep the mind active.

Funded by the Western Australian Department of Health, Lottery West and the Australian Department of Industry Innovation and Science, participants will have ongoing one-on-one and group training and support to use the device and app from MercyCare support staff, backed by IT support from CheckedIn Care.

QUT Lead Researcher Dr Margaret MacAndrew will collect information from research participants using MercyCare Connect throughout the 12-month trial to explore if the app helps to deepen existing relations with family and friends and increase confidence, motivation to explore and continuous learning. When all these add up, ultimately the hope is this will result in a decrease of loneliness and depression.

“In light of the Royal Commission Interim Report, Aged Care needs to be more about personal relationships and connections. While MercyCare already aligns with this with its person-centred approach, we wanted to ensure we keep striving towards empowering older Australians to be able to make the connections they want,” Mrs Penman said.