Nine ways that older Australians can get through the coronavirus crisis

Older Australians are likely to have lived through a number of global calamities, including World War II, the 1950s polio epidemic, the threat of nuclear war and the global financial crisis during the late 2000s.

Now a new worldwide crisis has emerged – coronavirus.

This virus is a real problem for older Australians, because the virus’ mortality rate dramatically increases with age.

As this story explains, the coronarvirus-related mortality rate is 1.4 per cent for people aged 50-59, 3.6 per cent for the 60-69 age group, eight per cent for the 70-79 age group and 14.8 per cent for people aged 80 and above. In other words, if you are older than 80 and catch the virus, you have a one in eight chance of dying.

This compares to a mortality rate of less than 0.4 per cent for people aged below 50.

Unfortunately, there is anecdotal evidence that some older Australians are being complacent and overly relaxed about the virus, because they were able to get past the last few crisis situations and feel this one will be no different.

Given the virus’ deadly implications for older Australians, as outlined above, this attitude is entirely misguided and incorrect..

So, as an organisation which seeks to act in the best interests of older Australians, has put together a list of how seniors can get through the virus crisis.

1. Follow the hygiene and social distancing rules

This is pretty obvious, but one well worth repeating.

As outlined in this Australian Government fact sheet specifically directed at older Australians, everyone needs to:

  • Cover their coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • Dispose of tissues immediately they are used, into a dedicated waste bin and washing your hands
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet, and when you have been out to shops or other places
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, where available
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched
  • Stay 1.5 metres away from other people – an example of “social distancing”
  • If you are sick, avoid contact with others.

2. Be careful of interaction with children

In recent months and years, there has been growing evidence that older Australians – particularly those in retirement communities – get tremendous benefit from increased interaction with younger Australians, including children.

Sadly, the coronavirus will significantly reduce this interaction, or put it to an end – at least for the next few months.

This is because children and young people may be carriers of coronavirus, but show no symptoms, and secretly pass it on to an older person. In addition, younger children unfortunately cannot be trusted to have the same good hygiene habits as an adult.

It’s for this reason that the Australian Government, from 19 March, has banned children under 16 from visiting aged care facilities. Retirement village operators have also been encouraged to take similar measures.

This means older Australians also need to be very careful when interacting with their grandchildren. What used to be a big Grandma hug will probably need to be replaced by a friendly wave and blown kiss over a video call.

3. Time to use technology

We know that many older Australians are digitally-active, with around eight out of ten people aged over 65 owning a smartphone.

The problem is that while older people have high levels of digital device ownership, they only have moderate levels of confidence when it comes to using the devices.

Digital technology will be a huge asset for older Australians during this crisis.

This includes being able to talk to general practitioners, and accessing bulk billed services via video link.

It also includes being able to talk to family members and friends, via video link. There are many free video link options including Google HangoutsSkype or Apple’s Facetime.

A report released in November last year found that 98 per cent of seniors were comfortable making phone calls, but only 18 per cent were comfortable making video calls. This statistic needs to change.

The good news is that there are some great resources out there to help seniors become  technologically-literate.

For instance, Telstra’s Tech Savvy Seniors initiative includes self-help videos on subjects such as emails, mobile devices and using the internet.

Another fantastic resource is the Australian Government’s Be Connected web pages, which also give a “dummy’s” guide to technology – including how to set up a computer and use a mouse.

4. Consider a retirement community

Retirement communities are currently giving additional services to residents to help them through the crisis, including special early morning bus trips to the supermarket, additional in-village fresh food deliveries, flu shots and video link support.

This sort of support is invaluable during a crisis.

In addition, around 39 per cent of retirement villages have home care provided on-site by the village operator, and 29 per cent are co-located with an aged care facility. This means that many retirement communities have enhanced care services, compared to living at home.

Finally, of course, retirement communities deliver a supportive and cohesive community, which means that fellow residents or the community operator are likely to check on your welfare and help you out in times of trouble.

5. Take advantage of shopping incentives for older Australians

Retailers have responded to concerns that vulnerable Australians, including older Australians, are having difficulty accessing everyday essentials because of hoarding and panic buying by the general population.

For instance, on 24 March, Coles announced that the first hour of trade in its supermarkets – from 7am to 8am – each Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be set aside for customers who hold a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card, Disability Card and Health Care Card.

The Woolworths has also extended its community hour, but restricted its operation to supermarkets which have not been listed as one of 41 new “priority online delivery hubs”.

In these hubs, the community hour will be used to support online orders for vulnerable consumers, including the elderly.

The Woolworths priority assistance form is available here.

This story provides information about other retailers offering shopping incentives for the elderly.

6. Continue to exercise and keep healthy

Just as before the virus crisis, it is important for older Australians to continue healthy habits – eating good food, undertaking regular exercise (subject to social distancing) and avoid smoking and drinking.

7. Take advantage of government payments

The Australian Government is offering a range of benefits, to help people – including older Australians – to get through the crisis.

Pensioners will receive a $750 bonus payment on 31 March, and a further $750 on 13 July – see more details here.

Separately, working older Australians – including sole traders – may be eligible to receive a “coronavirus supplement” of $550 per fortnight and also access a regular Jobseeker Payment.

This helpful National Seniors story also explains other changes, including to superannuation regulation, which may be of interest to older Australians.

8. Stay in touch on social media

It is a good idea to have social media accounts, and stay in touch with friends and family using social media networks.

By the same token, social media networks are increasingly awash with uninformed opinions about the virus crisis. It is best to take these opinions with a grain of salt.

9. Stay stimulated, educated and entertained

This is the perfect time to read your favourite books, or re-watch that old movie you loved, while you are self-isolating in your home.

Fortunately, while many local library branches have closed down, their websites do offer a range of online and free films, magazines and books (including audio books). You can also try JustWatch, which links to movies and shows you can pay to download.

Mark Skelsey


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