Zooming in on dementia-friendly video calls

Guide launched to help people with dementia navigate video conferencing

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Video conferencing guide launched to help people living with dementia stay connected.


In the wake of COVID, video conferencing platforms such as Zoom have provided a lifeline for many isolated Australians enabling them to stay connected.

But amid this 'Zoom boom' some Australians need extra support to help them navigate the challenges of video calls and virtual meetings.

In Australia there are around 459,000 people living with dementia, many who are using technology to keep in touch with family, friends, carers and health professional every day.

But according to Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe, using this technology can also be challenging for people with dementia.

"While we have been in isolation due to COVID-19, everyone has adapted to a new way of working, which has included a heavy reliance on video calling and conferencing.

"This comes with its own challenges and for people living with dementia the experience has an added layer of complexity and video conferencing can be a frustrating, overwhelming and negative experience.

"Instead of video conferencing being a way to connect with others, it can often be a barrier for people living with dementia and further embed feelings of social isolation."

To this end, Dementia Australia has launched guides to help people living with dementia use video conferencing, such as Zoom.

The need for the guides was identified by the Dementia Australia Advisory Committee, which is made up of people living with dementia. With members across the country, the team often meets by the Zoom video conferencing platform.

One of the committe members involved was Dennis Frost. "I have an IT background and I spend about 10 to 15 hours a week in online meetings, so I understand the challenges personally," he said.

"For people living with dementia, background noises are very distracting and there have been a few times that's it's been hard to concentrate on calls and this has made me understand how environmental issues are a big issue for people living with dementia."

Mr Frost said it helps to have meetings with clearly structured agendas made available in advance. "That makes a difference. Like any meeting, whether online or face-to-face, having a clear structure makes it easier to follow what's happening," he said.

The guides include practical step-by-step instructions on how to use the technology, and helpful tips on how to get the best out of the online experience, including preparing written signs to use during the meeting such as 'I want to speak' or 'I agree'.

There are also tips on how to hold a dementia-friendly meeting, including taking a five-minute break every 30-45 minutes or when needed, ensuring everyone's name is clearly displayed on screen, and making sure any meeting papers are emailed rather than in a link.

Juanita Hughes, who lives with dementia and is also a member of the Dementia Australia Advisory Committee, believes the guidelines promote the vision of people with dementia.

"There is so much raw talent in just the one group of people who are all living with dementia and we have been using Zoom to connect and learn long before this pandemic," Ms Hughes said.

"Sure, you might take some extra time and effort, but it doesn't mean you don't have the ability to participate and contribute. Just because you have dementia doesn't mean you don't have capacities.

Dementia Australia's Ms McCabe said the guides aim to support people with dementia feel better equipped to access video conferencing in order to stay connected.

"People with a lived experience of dementia are best placed to understand the unique challenges they live with and they have developed resources which will be useful for so many people in the community and the aged care sector," she said.

The free, online resources are available HERE

National Dementia Helpline:1800 100 500, dementia.org.au