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Locked away by a pandemic and isolated by technology - life as an 88-year-old in Qld


Far from helping many elder Australians, technology is the very thing that is increasingly isolating them from society, writes Madonna King

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This is a story of two octogenarians, and how we are really treating our elderly as omicron fans out across the nation.

Marion and Geoff could be anyone’s parents or grandparents. And they’re both trying to do the ‘right thing’ and navigate this tricky pandemic just as the politicians tell to.

Many of their peers, locked away in aged care home rooms with limited visitors, haven’t seen their families for months. Others will have Christmas by themselves; strict ongoing rules prevent families from joining them to celebrate.

But even those fortunate enough to be out and about might soon find their lack of techno-literacy or choice not to carry a mobile phone – not the threat of omicron – is a bigger enemy.

Let’s take Marion, 89, for example. In NSW, once you turn 85 and in order to keep your driver’s licence, you are required to have a medical test and a driving test every second year. She had no problems with the medical or optical tests – so made an appointment for her driving test.

“On attending the appointment I could not have the test because I was not fully vaccinated,’’ she told me. “I stated that my birthday would come before my second vaccination.’’

Marion was ordered to leave the appointment, have a COVID test, and make another appointment within a 72-hour window.

“When I went for the test they weren’t going to test me because I don’t have a mobile phone.’’ Her home phone didn’t cut the mustard to receive a result – so she left an email address – which is is very capable of using – and her landline.

Back at her second driving test appointment, she was refused again – because she couldn’t furnish the COVID test result – because she didn’t have a mobile phone! That discussion took 2.5 hours and later, when she told her state and federal members – “not to complain but to inform’’ – she says she was told that she should have chased it up earlier.

“I am well but some others my age are quite frail. I still have not received a result after six weeks. I know I am well but I fear for others in my age group,’’ she says.

So what else could she do – apart from buy a smart phone? And shouldn’t we be making this as easy and as streamlined as possible, particularly for the elderly who our politicians remind us daily are the most vulnerable group?

Let’s go to Geoff, who lives in Queensland. He’s got a mobile phone – but it’s not smart phone. It can’t scan. It can’t download an app. And even if it could, Geoff, 88, would be the first to say he’s an ‘old dog’ and doesn’t want to learn new tricks.

Geoff has become immobile and his son, an enduring power of attorney, wants to set up an online account to pay his bills. But he’s confronting the same immoveable walls Marion has struck.

It can’t be done, with Geoff, over the phone. Geoff can’t get to the bank, and he doesn’t know a JP who can drop into the aged care home – and who would be prepared to show proof of a flu jab, COVID test or anything else required.

Luckily, he has another account – but the card has just expired. It’s just that he needs to go online – and he doesn’t have an email address, so that’s out – or download an app, which his phone cannot do.

Ironically, getting his TAB account online, and onto an app on his son’s phone, proved effortless.

Our priorities here, if our aim is to treasure our elderly, need to be upended. And is any part of the pandemic policy – state or federal – really aimed at maintaining the dignity and some lifestyle for our elderly?

Geoff’s son says he believes it is a form of discrimination. “It’s not just age discrimination. It’s technology discrimination – and that affects the aged more than anyone else,’’ he says.

“Why should an 88-year-old man have to spend more a $1000 buying a smart phone to just live what’s left of his life. And if it’s necessary, maybe the government should provide it.’’

Marion and Geoff represent thousands of others; probably someone you know, too. Old fashioned good manners, civility and immobility might prevent them from taking to the streets.

But perhaps the rest of us, before we get to that stage, need to lobby to enshrine basic human rights for our loved ones because isolation, a lack of connection, and roadblocks to simply living life can be as deathly as any strain of the COVID virus.

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