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Staying connected during COVID-19

Retirement Living Care Services Staying at Home Connectedness Wellbeing

Staying connected with family and friends is important – especially during challenging times. In this special feature we explore how we can connect in a time of COVID-19 with social distancing and restrictions in place.

31 July 2020
Picking up the phone or sending a text message are the simplest ways to stay connected.
“People are telling us they’re feeling overwhelmed, worried, lonely, concerned about their physical health and the health of friends and loved ones, and anxious about money, job security and the economy.”
Georgie Harman
Beyond Blue CEO

The global pandemic that is COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we all live and older Australians are no exception.

Although most states and territories have relaxed some of the lockdown restrictions we’ve lived with for a few months, the advice is we still need to keep our social distance.

Returning to our normal way of way of life – where you feel safe to visit cafes, cinemas, crowded shopping centres and hotels, for example – could still be some way off.

In particular, the Australian Government has urged people over 70 and those over 65 with chronic conditions to exercise great caution, given the risk of serious illness is much greater for people in those categories. For many, that means continuing to stay at home as much as possible and limiting social contact.

Yet, countless experts have advised that staying connected with family and friends is one of the most important tools for coping with this crisis.

Video chats are a popular way to stay in touch.

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman says there’s been a spike in people seeking help from the mental health support organisation: “People are telling us they’re feeling overwhelmed, worried, lonely, concerned about their physical health and the health of friends and loved ones, and anxious about money, job security and the economy.”

However, Beyond Blue Chair Julia Gillard says she is heartened by the “many small acts of kindness and generosity we are seeing take place all over our country”. “Every day Australians are reaching out to neighbours, friends and even strangers, with a sense of open-hearted compassion to care for the most vulnerable and isolated,” she says.

“This is the very best of humanity. I am sure it is this spirit of community that will prevail.”

What are some of the ways you can stay connected, while limiting face-to-face contact?

The simplest way is to keep in touch by phone or text message, while social media and video chats have become popular ways to communicate. Many people have developed a contact list of family and friends they want to chat with regularly.

Even letter writing is coming back into vogue. Across Australia young children are discovering the joy of sending letters or cards to elderly relatives, neighbours or aged care residents to brighten their day.

There are also lots of grassroots campaigns springing up to help people young and old stay in touch and to check on vulnerable people.

For some it’s as simple as dropping their phone number in a neighbour’s letterbox so they can stay in touch.

There’s been a huge take-up in WhatsApp and Facebook chats to communicate with immediate neighbours.

Lifeline encourages people to get creative with how they interact, and offers some suggestions:

  • Set up a gratitude tree – where every member posts a message or sends a text to other members to share something they are grateful for.
  • Find a buddy, or group of, to set daily challenges with. These could include a healthy habit, a mindful practice, a creative pursuit. Be sure to encourage and check in daily to stay motivated.
  • Set dates and times to watch the same TV shows/movies with someone and message each other your thoughts along the way . . . kind of like Gogglebox but you’re not sharing the couch!
  • If your local community has one, join its social media group! This will keep you up to date with what’s going on directly around you. It may also include ways you can perhaps reach out and connect with someone less fortunate than you and ways to assist them.

If you’d like to get more involved in the digital world but don’t know where to start, check out the website Be Connected https://beconnected.esafety.gov.au/. The Australian Government’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says there are great resources on the website for older Australians to develop online skills and navigate the digital world with confidence.

“At a time when video calls and online purchasing are encouraged, we need to ensure older Australians receive the right advice and support to help them interact online safely,” she says.

The Be Connected website offers more than 45 free online courses plus interactive training tools and resources. You can learn how to make video calls, use popular social media services, use Facebook safely and how to shop online.

Accessing reliable information

An important part of staying connected is staying informed. It’s critical you get accurate information from credible sources, as this will help you maintain perspective about the pandemic and also feel more in control.

The most reliable source of information is the Australian Government’s COVID-19 health alert, which you can find on the Department of Health website.

Healthdirect, a government-funded service, has a dedicated COVID-19 section, including advice for older Australians. Each state or territory government is also putting out information online about how COVID-19 can be managed and how restrictions are being enforced.

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