The coronavirus has had an enormous impact on millions of people across the world, with over 100 Australian lives lost to date. People over 70 years of age and those 65 years and older with pre-existing medical conditions or weakened immune systems are at a much greater risk of COVID-19, and as a result, the Australian government has advised everyone to practise physical distancing, with elderly people being asked not to leave home unless absolutely necessary.
But this can be difficult for older Australians, particularly if they live alone and do not have support with necessities like buying groceries or medications. However, help is available, and the government is doing everything it can to assist those in the community who are struggling. If this is the case for an elderly family member, here is a summary of support services for the elderly that may help them to negotiate these challenging times.
Help with groceries
Many of the larger supermarket chains have special arrangements in place, including priority access to online and telephone shopping for older and vulnerable people. Coles, Woolworths and some smaller supermarkets also offer dedicated shopping hours between 7am and 9am.
Some supermarkets are also offering priority delivery services, and some local produce markets offer delivery or click-and-collect-services if elderly people are unable to go into a store.
However, because the coronavirus situation is changing so rapidly, the conditions of these arrangements may change, so contact your local supermarket or visit their website for more details. You can also visit the Council on the Ageing (COTA) website if you need further assistance.
In terms of support services for the elderly, Commonwealth funded providers such as Meals on Wheels can assist with access to prepared meals and regular food supplies. If your elderly loved one is in urgent need of support, you can also call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422, and they will refer you directly to services in your local area. If they are over 65 and not registered with My Aged Care, you can help them by calling to register, and services will be set up quickly—up to six weeks without the need for an assessment.
Help with healthcare services
When it comes to home help for pensioners for healthcare services, Medicare subsidises bulk-billed Telehealth services for all Australians, including the elderly in aged care facilities and those living in their own homes.
Elderly people can use these services to connect with their own doctor or other medical professionals, including nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists. They can get direct telephone support to their home or through video conferencing apps like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp. They simply have to contact their GP’s clinic or health service provider, and ask whether phone or telehealth services are available to them.
When a face-to-face consultation is required, they may still be able to attend appointments at primary health clinics and hospitals. For more information, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or access your state or territory’s public health agency online. Most importantly, if your elderly loved one starts to feel unwell, particularly with symptoms of the coronavirus, they need to contact their doctor or call 13 HEALTH immediately.
Help with medicines
As part of the National Health Plan for COVID-19, the government recently introduced legislation that recognises electronic prescriptions as a legal document, allowing medicine to be supplied. This service will be progressively available from the end of May 2020, however paper prescriptions are still available, and seniors can still choose which pharmacy they’d like to fill their prescription.
In terms of support services for the elderly, seniors can access prescriptions via the Telehealth services mentioned above until 30th September 2020. They will just need to talk to their GP, who will create a paper prescription and send it to them in the mail, which will allow a friend or family member to collect their medicine from the preferred pharmacy. They can also create a copy as a digital image that they can fax, text, or email to their pharmacy, who will deliver the medicine to their home (often for free).
The Home Medicines Service is also available for those over 70 who wish to limit their potential exposure to the coronavirus in the community. The service is available for both Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) prescriptions that are normally received in a Dose Administration Aid. Seniors will need to speak to their doctor or pharmacist to find out if they are eligible for the service.
If your elderly loved one is unable to get a new prescription from their doctor, they can still access their usual medicines at PBS prices. Pharmacists can dispense up to a month’s supply of these without a script. However, if they have been prescribed the medicine previously, the pharmacist must agree that they need it urgently.
Help with the wellbeing of seniors
Senior Australians, their families and their carers have a free dedicated telephone support line that assists those impacted by the spread of the coronavirus. Known as the Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line, it offers support services for the elderly if they are feeling lonely and need someone to talk to, or need information about COVID-19 restrictions and how it affects them. The COVID-19 support line number is 1800 171 866, and operates Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 6pm.
Anyone who receives Home Care Packages or government-subsidised residential aged care is also eligible for the Community Visitors Scheme. It provides volunteer support to elderly people by offering ongoing friendship and companionship. And although visiting restrictions are currently in place, the scheme can still provide phone and virtual friendships to those who are feeling socially isolated.
Older Australians who want to develop their digital literacy skills and get themselves online can also visit eSafety’s Be Connected website. It has a range of great resources designed to help them develop online skills and connect to their friends and family. If they can’t hug their loved ones in person, connecting digitally can make all the difference!
- 2020, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) information, COTA
- 2020, COVID-19 Temporary MBS Telehealth Services, Australian Government Department of Health
- 2020, Local state and territory health departments, Australian Government Department of Health
- 2020, Symptoms of COVID-19 and how the virus spreads, Health Direct
- 2020, Electronic Prescriptions, Australian Government, Australian Digital Health Agency
- 2020, COVID-19 National Health Plan – Home Medicines Services information for consumers, Australian Government Department of Health
- 2020, Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line, Australian Government Department of Health
- 2020, Community Visitors Scheme (CVS), Australian Government Department of Health
- 2020, Build Your Online Skills, Australian Government