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About COTA SA
COTA SA works to advance the rights, interests and futures of people as we age. It is the peak body for 633,000 older people in South Australia, and provides a platform to ensure that older South Australians are part of decision making by government and industry on everything including income, employment, housing and health.
What are some of the issues older people in South Australia are facing during the pandemic?
Firstly, from the beginning of COVID-19, we felt the most important thing we could do was to stay very closely in touch with older people, and so we did a number of things. We rang all the people on our database who live alone and are not online. We've made 800 calls I think. We also wrote to everybody. We actually physically mailed a letter to 9000 people. So that has been a really high priority.
It's been really tempting, and it always is in times like these, to cast older people as sort of pathetic and old and very needy, but what we found is that people are incredibly resourceful, resilient, stoic, you know 'other people are worse off than me’ attitude...
It's been really tempting, and it always is in times like these, to cast older people as sort of pathetic and old and very needy, but in fact many are incredibly resourceful, resilient, stoic, you know 'other people are worse off than me” kind of attitude. There is indeed a patience about older people. There is an enormous concern for the economy, for the health of the community, for their kids, their grandkids and their great grandkids and what it means for them. So lots of sympathy and empathy for other people in the community.
One of the issues has been around visiting residential aged care. The idea of not allowing visits throughout the current period was never going to be sustainable because people have families and friends and lives to lead. Aged care is not a jail, and there is an enormous desire to see grandchildren and families etc…
We have found that people with a little bit of digital capability have embraced some new applications, but for people who don't use digital applications at all, it's exacerbated that divide.
Digital connection has been really interesting for people who are already a little bit online. We’ve heard about church groups and rotary clubs for example using zoom, so we've got this new group of so-called ‘zoomers’ emerging. We have found that people with a little bit of digital capability have embraced some new applications, but for people who don't use digital applications at all, it's exacerbated that divide. Our focus has been on people who are not digitally connected where's there's a risk of loneliness and isolation.
How is COTA SA engaging the older community who are not digitally connected?
We are very concerned about the impact of loneliness and isolation. A number of older people are staying at home with very little connection to other people. So with that, we launched ‘Postcards from Behind the COVID-19 Curtain’, and we invite older people to contact us by phone or by mail or in whatever way they can. We send them a pack of two postcards. One of the postcards has our address and a stamp on it. As long as they fill it out in their own hand,, they can tell us whatever they like. They can draw. They can write a poem or a recipe. They can write whatever they like. But tell us what it's been like - upsides, downsides. The other postcard is theirs to send to whoever they like.
We've set up huddles around South Australia and now our volunteers are connecting with older people in their own communities and supporting them to solve problems locally.
The other focus for us is our country communities. We did some major work last year to understand our country communities better – they are older generally than metropolitan Adelaide with particular characteristics, strengths and needs. Our volunteers are largely not seeing people face to face at the moment so we've set up huddles around South Australia and our volunteers are connecting with older people in their own communities and supporting them to solve problems locally.
If we think about what innovations and partnerships exist or emerging to reframe the way we age, what opportunities do you see for innovation in this area?
The first is the really obvious one, where during this time of pandemic local neighbourhood connection and face to face human connection is really, really important. This is where our priority has been. Our COTA SA social insights business team, 'The Plug--in' connects regularly with older people, asking them about COVID-19, and about their priorities and strategies. Rather than others speaking for them , it is important that older people can be directly influential and use their own voices to provide opinion, feedback and advice.
When somebody comes to us with an issue or a problem that they want more information and some insights about, we go and source a community of older people and match them up.
Our promise is that for older people to have the opportunity to directly influence policy services and decisions that impact them. When an innovator, business or researcher comes to us with an issue or a problem that they want more information and some insights about, The Plug-in sources a community of older people and matches them up. It's a superb vehicle for ensuring that people are involved in the development of products, policy and services that affect them. The Plug-in is growing all the time and we have a capacity to reach older people who are not online.
The other thing I think that we're really challenged to do (and this is what the Thriving Communities Partnership is all about) is stopping the premise about what's our patch and what somebody else's patch
The other thing I think that we're really challenged to do (and this is what the Thriving Communities Partnership is all about) is stopping the premise about what's our patch and what somebody else's patch. How can we work together? We've got a coalition that we convene in South Australia of agencies like Red Cross, Aboriginal Community Services, Multicultural Communities Council, Country Women’s Association, Meals on Wheels, where we share a commitment to connect with older people who may well be isolated. We're working together and sharing ideas and promoting one another's work.
For more information on this importance topic, please connect with Jane via her LinkedIn profile.