Opinion pieces


April 21, 2020

How much has your life changed over the past month since social distancing and self-isolation measures were implemented and recommended?

If you are still able to work, are you feeling more grateful than ever to have a job?

Are you savouring getting out of the house for some exercise each day?

Has your trip to the supermarket become a highlight of your week to have some face-to-face interaction with people?

How much harder would this new world we are living in be if you couldn't do any of the above?

That's the case for many elderly Australians, and as Hunter New England Health public health physician Dr David Durrheim recently pointed out in the Herald (16/04), even when social distancing measures are eventually relaxed, these members of the community may be need to continue to isolate.

This is a devastating prospect for them.

They're arguably already the most impacted by this disease given all Australians aged over 70 have been strongly encouraged to stay at home and self-isolate.

While I was lucky enough to spend Easter at home with my wife and children, I have no doubt there would be many older Australians who spent this period alone.

That's on top of the things they've already missed - grandchildren's birthdays and milestones, their weekly game of bowls of golf, a holiday they'd been looking forward to, or even just a regular cup of tea with their neighbour.

That there's no end in sight for this period of isolation is heartbreaking.

It's important that we don't forget about elderly Australians during this time and we do what we can to help them.

The Shortland electorate is one of the oldest by age in the Commonwealth, therefore my constituents are massively exposed to both the health and social implications of this crisis.

I have been providing information and advice directly to older people in my electorate.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been calling constituents aged over 80 to ensure they are as well supported as possible.

I'm also volunteering with Meals on Wheels.

However, I also think it's important to remind younger Australians what they can be doing to help.

I urge you to find ways to keep in regular contact with elderly Australians, particularly those living in aged care.

Aged care residents are now only able to have one visit per day from a maximum of two visitors, and children aged under 17 should only visit "on the exception".

These residents will be feeling particularly lonely and isolated, so please ensure you keep in regular contact with them over the phone for example.

If they are tech-savvy, why not start up a family group chat or play some games with them online?

Thankfully it seems the panic buying we saw earlier on in this crisis is coming to an end, however it's still difficult for senior Australians to get their essentials, particularly if they're self-isolating.

Could you pick up some groceries or medication for them next time you're going to these shops?

Similarly, offer to run errands on elderly Australians' behalf.

I encourage younger people to leave a note in their elderly neighbours' letterboxes with their name and phone number and an offer of assistance.

To help prevent loneliness and boredom for those self-isolating or spending as much time at home as possible, consider purchasing some books, magazines, and puzzles for them.

Are you able to get access to some entertaining podcasts or television shows for them?

Encourage older people to keep as active as possible and not to sit in front of the television all day.

Depending on their circumstances, suggest that they go for small walks if possible or spend some time in their garden.

If they are self-isolating and remaining indoors as much as possible, advise them to stand up regularly.

Even standing up a few times an hour can help.

If you have an elderly relative who is not living in aged care, touch base with their neighbours and see if they are happy to help out in any way.

I know these are some dark and lonely times, but I know we will get through this together.

This opinion piece was first published in THE NEWCASTLE HERALD on TUESDAY, 21 APRIL 2020.