Many retirees are allergic to the umbrella term ‘aged care’, which provokes images of dependency that are a far cry from their everyday reality.
In fact, some have been actively leading their communities in the fight against the social alienation caused by COVID-19.
Take Anita and Dwight Smith, for example, who are home-owners within Centennial Living’s Keilor Retirement Village.
Anita worked as a financial counsellor and later in her working life developed community education, training and resources for refugee groups and lectured in Developing Community Education Programs at Victoria University.
She is currently a volunteer with Council of the Ageing (COTA) Victoria.
Dwight is a former journalist, newspaper editor and marketing manager with postgraduate qualifications in the use of IT for communications.
Together they are leveraging their professional expertise as producers of their village’s two local TV channels.
Now while each of Centennial Living’s seven villages have their own local TV station, which can be used to broadcast relevant news and notifications to their residents, the Smiths are the first residents to hand curate the system.
They have dedicated ‘Channel 5’ to presenting news about weekly village events, while Channel 50 streams a wide range of entertainment, historical, health and fitness programs.
Anita says their aim is to develop programs in formats that are interesting and engaging.
“It’s a model that can be used in other centres that accommodate older people,” she explains.
Through the couple’s efforts, their network now functions as a targeted, real-time source of information, ever important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re updating on a daily basis at the moment.
“The challenge is that a lot of older people cannot use digital equipment for communication or information, but they can access a television.”
Through the digital software Yodeck, the Smiths produce original bulletins that address topics overlooked by the wider media.
“We’ve put on the channels things like how to work QR codes… and how to do the Medicare app on your phone,” Anita says.
Pre-COVID, the village boasted a vibrant social calendar, and the Smiths have worked to supplement this through their programming.
“When people were confined to their homes during COVID, we needed to be more creative in developing programs that engaged them.
“It can be as simple as having people come to their front doors and join a community sing-a-long or costume party with on-screen backing music.”
A spokesperson for Centennial Living told Aged Care News that the organisation was impressed by the Smiths’ work.
“Our main priority was to support the village management and village staff in keeping everyone safe,” the spokesperson said.
“[Anita and Dwight] did a good job too, in keeping people informed and by providing pastime activities over the TV.”
Anita also told Aged Care News that the use of a ‘telephone tree’ was vital in maintaining morale in the village community.
A telephone tree is an organised and agreed method of communication between members of a defined community.
The social club at Keilor, which has 15 members, created a tree where they were each assigned six or seven people which they contacted on a regular basis to check up on their welfare and to let them know what was happening in the village.
“I think phone trees could be used a lot more by organisations,” Anita says.
I know a lot of people, not in the village, that are very isolated… I think [phone trees] really would help to connect people.”
Keilor Retirement Village manager, David Moore also sends regular newsletter updating residents of current COVID restrictions and village updates.
These coordinated programmes have proven a shining example of how independent living can be maintained without compromise to heart-felt care and connection.
“I think that’s the positive during COVID, that people still had contact with people and even though we’re all independent units, everyone still keeps an eye out on other people,” Anita says.