Online social for the elderly: 70 students to present community projects at Allied Health Conference

Published 2 May 2019
Southern Cross University Allied Health students Mia Lefebvre and Kyle Williams Southern Cross University Allied Health students Mia Lefebvre and Kyle Williams

Two Southern Cross University Allied Health students have embarked on a collaborative community project to help the elderly combat social isolation.

Fourth-year occupational therapy student Mia Lefebvre and podiatry student Kyle Williams are one of 27 student groups who will present their community health projects at the University’s annual student-led Allied Health Conference on the Gold Coast on May 10.

Kyle and Mia will discuss their overall findings and future recommendations for the Virtual Senior Centre (VSC) online platform which was created to help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness through connecting likeminded seniors.

Kyle Williams said while most of the seniors taking part were from the Gold Coast and Northern NSW, others from interstate were also joining in.

“Through the platform, elderly participants can login to the website and participate in group programs,” said Kyle about the pilot stage of the Feros Care program.

“Our role within the project was to support data collection, analysis and report writing, and our preliminary data shows the participants now have reduced feelings of social isolation by gaining a greater sense of belonging within the community. Many have also stated that they would recommend the program to people experiencing feelings of loneliness.”

Mia said while nothing beats face-to-face interaction, many elderly people miss out on social connection altogether if they have conditions which restrict them from leaving their home.

“The long-term aim for the Virtual Senior Centre is to continue to grow in participants and increase the number of online programs it offers,” she said.

“We have heard from many elderly people that they want to continue to stimulate their brains, have the opportunity to attend an exercise class and just communicate with others, all while being able to stay at home. This platform has been able to achieve this for them. They even have the option of watching the session later at their leisure if they are unable to attend the designated time it is running.”

One participant from the local region said they found genuine benefit in the friendly, warm, empathic conversation with others in the program, particularly when others shared the same interests in animals and landmark locations, and were willing to share ideas, views and laughter.

“The Virtual Senior Centre is very accessible and despite people not being in the same room, or even same state, direct interaction and communication can take place – it’s the next best thing to being there together.”

Another participant said that due to illness they had suffered isolation from not being able to go to church, visit friends or be actively involved in community.

“The Virtual Senior Centre has been a lifeline. I can attend a virtual church group, chat with friends whenever I want, and see the world through the remote-streaming sessions, including one of my favourite sessions ‘Down on the Farm’.”

The one-day 2019 Allied Health Conference, to be held at Southern Cross University on May 10 from 9am to 5pm, is organised by students in the Bachelor of PodiatryOccupational Therapy and Speech Pathology, and is open to the public with six professional development points (CPD) available for health professionals.

Event organiser and podiatry student Kasia Thomakowski said 70 final-year students will showcase a variety of health promotion and primary health care projects.

“The conference also features guest presenters, industry information stalls, food, entertainment, networking opportunities and professional development points for attendees,” Kasia said.

Other student projects to be showcased include: sleep management for hospital patients, mental health empowerment, health promotion in schools, improving listening environments using acoustics, using low-tech communication boards with special needs children, oral-language intervention, using speech-sound activity packs, workplace stress reduction through mindfulness, screening for processing deficits in a forensic mental health facility, peer mentoring for occupational therapy students, improving employment access for people with mental health disabilities, increasing compression garment usage for ulcer patients, a workplace manual handling educational safety video, a Parkinson’s Disease therapy feasibility study, and multiple learnings from international community projects in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Tickets are $10 from coastrs.com.au

People with a disability and their carers receive free entry.

Media contact: Jessica Nelson 0417288794 or scumedia@scu.edu.au