Love under lockdown: Council project empowers residents to digitally engage

They say love always finds a way – even in the midst of a world-altering pandemic.

Nearly every day for the past year-and-a-half, Valerie, 89, would visit her husband of 66 years, David, who lives in residential aged care in Croydon.

Like untold numbers of other nursing homes across the country, the facility was forced to ban visitors earlier this year to protect its residents from the risk of exposure to coronavirus.

For Valerie and her husband, it meant having to resort to regular phone calls. A short reprieve in May with the relaxing of Victoria’s restrictions meant she could see David, with twice-weekly visits allowed – but for only 30 minutes at a time, with no hug and no contact.

News of a second wave of COVID-19 dealt the couple another blow, as they were again forced apart. Like so many others around the world with a similar story, Valerie did not know when she would see her husband again.

Their weeks of separation ended last week with a short but emotional reunion – at a distance.

Valerie was able to speak to, and see, her husband via video chat link, thanks to a social technology project being rolled out by Council’s Occupational Therapy team.

“Can you see me?” she asked with a beaming smile through her tablet screen.

“Oh, there you are! Yes, I can see you,” replied David.

“It’s lovely to see you,” she said.

The project – the first of its kind for Maroondah City Council – is being offered to Kerrabee clients as a way to stay connected with family and friends while in isolation.

The project involves one-on-one training using a tablet device at home, with measures in place to ensure safe physical distancing. The tablet-based software takes the core features of a smartphone, such as calling and text messaging, and lays them out in a way that is relevant and intuitive for residents.

While Valerie admits to “never being much good [with computers]”, she’s grateful to be given the chance to learn. “I’m trying… I’m going to keep trying as best I can,” she said.

Unfortunately, one in three Australian seniors are living in social isolation despite the rest of the population becoming more inseparable from technology.

Council is delighted to be able to offer this kind of support to Kerrabee clients, with Valerie the first to take part. A big thank you to the Tarralla nursing staff who were at the other end ensuring David could receive the call from his wife.

Maintaining social connections is essential for health and wellbeing, especially for older residents living alone and who may be without the technology or the means to engage in a video chat.

Kerrabee is a Council-run social inclusion and wellbeing program of planned events and activities aimed to increase opportunities for participation, health and social connection.

Despite having suspended all in-house services since March, Kerrabee continues to support its 89 clients, with activity packs being delivered to residents each week. The activity packs are going out to a further 38 residents each week, including some who are receiving Council’s Delivered Meals service.

The weekly packs are a way for residents to still feel connected to the outside world, while allowing them to enjoy the same types of activities they would normally be doing when at the centre, such as puzzles, colour therapy books and crafts.

Valerie says she looks forward to returning to her Wednesday social group at Kerrabee, and is grateful to staff for keeping her spirits lifted during time away from family and friends.

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