Research & Impact
Helping the elderly fight COVID-19 with gerontechnology
It is senior citizens who require the most attention and support during the COVID-19 outbreak, at a time when most services for the elderly have been suspended and it is recognised that this group faces a higher risk of dying.
According to research by the Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies (APIAS) of Lingnan University, between 24 April and 14 May 2020 about 70 per cent of respondents working at service centres for the elderly said that the “drop-in service” (69.8%) and “social and recreational services” (68.5%) were completely suspended. They also noted that the impact on “carer support services” and “home visit services” was “severe” or “very severe” (54.5 per cent and 44.6 per cent respectively).
Respondents observed that the coronavirus had affected the well-being of the elderly who use their services, highlighting the “lack of social activity” (96.4%), “increase of loneliness” (78.2%), “worrying about being infected by the virus” (70.9%) and “physical deterioration” (65.5%).
While social distancing is unavoidable - and mandatory at most elderly service centres and hospitals - during the outbreak, remote or online caring and medical services may be the best and only option.
Over 60 per cent of people being interviewed aged 55 years and above are willing or very willing to try online medical consultations when the relevant technology is fully developed, as shown by another APIAS survey assessing their perceptions of the COVID-19 outbreak and telemedicine service.
The research team, led by Prof Joshua Mok Ka-ho, Vice-President of Lingnan, and Prof Huang Genghua, Research Assistant Professor and Education Officer of APIAS, found that willingness to undergo online medical consultations is related to education levels and social status.
Respondents with a tertiary or higher education are more prepared to try telemedicine than those with a secondary or basic education (70.6%vs 55.2%). Groups of older people living in owner-occupied flats, including private housing and home ownership scheme housing are more willing to use online services than their counterparts in rental and public housing (65.7% vs 47.4%).
The research team believes that this is a good time for Hong Kong to reinforce this inclination and to apply the latest technology to ease the healthcare shortage imposed by an aging local population.
For many years now, Lingnan has promoted gerontechnology initiatives to benefit both end users and the general public.
The LU Jockey Club Gerontechnology and Smart Ageing Project Team recently launched the Fighting COVID-19 @ Lingnan - Technology and Tools for Stay-at-home Learning programme, offering a series of online activities through videos, Facebook and Zoom so senior citizens can learn at home and remain connected during the pandemic.
The first “Gerontechnology Ambassador Online Training” programme attracted 33 participants with no online course training. Thanks to the team’s user guide and workshop, they were able to progress from asking questions like “Can you hear me?” “I can only see the background” and “I cannot find the chatroom” to seamless conversations and having fun in the video conferences.
“Perceptions that older people are reluctant to accept new things or adopt new technologies are already outdated,” Prof Mok says. “A high proportion of baby boomers have benefited from Hong Kong’s rapid economic development. Many of them received a formal education and accept new technological products more easily.”
Click here for more information on Lingnan’s gerontechnology projects