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Integratedliving Australia

Staying Connected iPad Program
Integratedliving Australia
Muswellbrook, NSW 

Home Care - Regional, 80 + beds

Award descriptors:
Social participation, Technology, Diversity

About the program 
The Staying Connected iPad Program harnesses digital technology to enhance social connections, reduce loneliness and improve health and wellbeing among older people and informal carers in rural and remote communities of Queensland and Tasmania. Digital technology provides useful ways for older people to stay socially connected to family, friends and community. It may also help older people to live at home independently for longer.  

Older people living with one or more chronic health conditions and informal carers are provided with a low cost, internet enabled iPad, training and ongoing support from a Staying Connected Advisor. Providing older people with social support is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes, reduced use of health and social services, premature admission to institutional care and reduced risk of death. 

The Staying Connected iPad Program participants have embraced the opportunity to learn about digital technology and are using this new knowledge of mobile technology to enhance the quality of their daily lives. Program evaluation has shown a range of benefits. Participants have reconnected with geographically distant family and friends using social media and skype, they enjoy online activities in group settings, and they have accessible health and wellbeing information.

What we did 
Enhancing the quality of life in older age may reduce medical costs. Intergenerational contact may be effective in alleviating the loneliness of older age. Older people tend to have fewer social contacts and often feel lonely. Engagement in leisure activities such as reading, hobbies, sport and shopping are successful predictors of social connectedness.  

Staff suggested the introduction and testing of digital technology (iPads) as a possible solution to meeting the diverse social and information needs of carers and older people with chronic health issues. Consumers who expressed feelings of loneliness or social isolation were invited to participate. International research has shown older people are interested in using mobile devices and services, however, they need to deliver real value, in the form of a more social, active, meaningful and independent life. 

The hypothesis was ‘carers and older people from rural and remote communities are willing to learn and engage with low-cost digital technology as a means of reducing social isolation’. 

Staying Connected iPad Program Advisors were employed specifically for the implementation of the program. They all have extensive experience in adult education and facilitating knowledge transfer using digital technologies. They undertake comprehensive training and troubleshooting with product consultants to ensure participants are supported to achieve maximum functionality of their iPads.

Prior to participation, the Staying Connected iPad Program Advisor undertakes a brief informal interview/survey with each potential participant using a prepared template.  

These data then provides guidance to support each individual to set their personal goals (what they want and hope to achieve from participation in the Staying Connected iPad Program). The data also assists with developing a one-on-one training and follow-up support plan. 

Participants are provided with an iPad which has a monthly data plan. The training plan is scheduled, for example, on an individual’s prior knowledge of digital technology, literacy levels, and physical and cognitive function. 

While some standard applications and programs are pre-loaded on each iPad, such as outlook for email and calendar, the majority of applications and programs uploaded are according to participant personal preference. Each support session provides opportunities to review satisfaction with iPad use and suggestions and encouragement to explore new tools for achieving personal goals and interests. 

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the program shows all participants who complete the iPad users’ training and support sessions continue to use their device, including those who initially express reluctance due to limited digital technology and literacy.

Building on the success of one-on-one sessions with iPad recipients, Staying Connected Advisors are working with local communities to facilitate group training. This novel intervention combines innovative training methodology in iPad use with a safe and enjoyable social program for rural and remote residents who are experiencing loneliness and social isolation.

Why we did it
Digital technology provides useful ways for older people to stay socially connected to family, friends and community. It may also help older people live at home independently for longer. Staying socially connected by keeping in touch with family and friends is important for preventing social isolation. 

In 2012 Queensland support workers identified a range of issues experienced by carers. The responsibility of caring was resulting in fewer positive social relationships and increased feelings of social isolation. People with weaker social relationships are at greater risk of premature mortality, especially those under 65 years of age. The Staying Connected iPad Pilot Program was developed in direct response to carers’ expressed needs. An external evaluation revealed many positive findings.

Older rural and remote Tasmanians who live alone, reported to our support staff they were feeling increasingly lonely, less able to engage with their community, and shopping and banking was becoming more difficult. Older people were frustrated by their inability to access relevant health information and community news. Building on the Queensland findings, Tasmanian staff introduced the Staying Connected iPad Program in 2014, which includes both individual and group training, information and support sessions. Two-way learning and sharing ensures the program is relevant, fun and meeting all stakeholders’ planned objectives and goals.

Who worked with us
The Staying Connected iPad Program works in partnership with government and non-government organisations. Referrals to the program are received from general practices, day centres, Senior Citizens, other aged care providers and consumers. 

Regional Assessment Teams conduct CHSP assessments and refer to the Staying Connected iPad Program when social isolation is an identified risk factor for older people with chronic health conditions. 

One example of a positive, collaborative relationship includes a local health service and a Staying Connected Advisor. While the local health service provides palliative care and end of life services, the Staying Connected iPad Program offers consumers the low-cost opportunity to communicate with distant loved ones via video using Skype, and to order online nutritious home-delivered meals.

Another example includes a non-government provider which facilitates care coordination for some Staying Connected consumers. This ensures appointments are scheduled to meet the time constraints of all, and messages of changes are forwarded promptly, minimising unnecessary travel. When any concerns arise, the Staying Connected Advisors work collaboratively with all parties to ensure the welfare of consumers is the first priority.

Neighbourhood Watch Houses provide the Staying Connected iPad Program participants access to their community centres. This excellent collaboration enables facilitation of group training sessions for iPad recipients. It also encourages participants to attend the community centre at other times, to access free Wi-Fi and to provide informal social networking opportunities for rural dwelling older people who have few other leisure activities.

What we learned
The Staying Connected iPad Program enables and encourages older people and carers to embrace digital technology from the comfort and safety of their own home. The majority of older people live in private homes or self-care accommodation; one quarter of people aged 65 years and older live alone; and just over half of those are aged over 86 years. 

The pilot Staying Connected iPad Program in Queensland in 2012 found more than 70% of carers reported the iPad Program made them feel more connected to family or friends. More than 90% of consumers used the iPad for leisure and entertainment purposes, such as reading books, playing games, connecting via Facebook, conducting their own research on their hobbies, such as the history of vintage cars. Respondents also use their iPad to seek information on financial matters, travel information, to relax and to complete puzzles. Rural respondents changed the way they engaged with their Staying Connected Advisor, choosing to use their iPad to email instead of their home telephone. Further, respondents found their relationship with their provider was more effective (from 8% to 31% very effective) two months after joining the program.

Research has shown older adults who adjust to later life transitions by remaining socially active are happier and healthier. The Staying Connected iPad Program recipients report many benefits to participation. Case study methodology to evaluate the implementation of the program across rural and regional areas of Tasmania shows a wide range of consumer benefits. For example, improvements in carers’ and older peoples’ mood, “I have never seen Mrs Smith happier,” improved self-management of consumers’ chronic health conditions, “I remember to take my medication now”; carers’ increased social engagement with friends “I love meeting at the Neighbourhood House for our group iPad sessions” and consumers’ virtual chat time across multiple generations. The following quote comes from a Tasmanian consumer:

“My iPad keeps me in touch with my seven year old great grandson who lives in Mandurah WA. I seen [sic] him take part in his school sports [and] receive his football medal. [And] see his seventh birthday party. None of this would of been possible without my iPad.”

One Indigenous man uses his iPad to watch YouTube videos to assist him make wooden toys and for his grandchildren.  

The oldest program participant is 95 years old. The majority of consumers live alone, or provide care to their partner.

The Staying Connected iPad Program is funded through the previous Home and Community Care (HACC) and now Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP). Each iPad recipient makes a small contribution towards operational costs. Most of the apps and programs downloaded by recipients are free. Local community facilities such as Neighbourhood Houses, libraries and Day Centres are providing support groups, training and free Wi-Fi in addition to the monthly data plan the program provides.

Currently there are over 150 Staying Connected iPad Program participants. A review of the program is currently underway to determine the feasibility of extending the service to other jurisdictions. Given the success in two states, it is likely the program can be easily replicated in other rural and remote communities and expanded in the current localities. iPad users’ family and friends are also keen to support their loved ones, through sharing family photos, playing scrabble and other games on line, and helping to problem solve as necessary. 

More information on this program:
Vanessa Jones, , or phone 0418 598 391


Friday, 21 December 2018 - 6:52am