Staying connected with our friends and peers brings meaning and joy to our daily lives. For older adults with limited mobility, they may feel cut off from those valuable social interactions. But, the advent of interactive chat forums make it possible for seniors to attend classes and “hang out” with other older adults without leaving home. Physical touch will always have an irreplaceable power to soothe and warm the heart, but online interaction can bring many of the benefits of socialization to those who are feeling isolated at home. It can foster a sense of involvement and community.
Socializing Keeps Older Adults Healthy and Happy
Socializing offers obvious benefits for older adults, for both their mental and physical well-being. It can potentially reduce the risk for health problems including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Alzheimer’s disease
Some older adults may feel hesitant to put themselves out there to socialize for a variety of reasons, such as: limited finances, hearing or vision loss, cognitive impairment, loss of manual dexterity, privacy concerns—or, just plain old shyness. Socializing can be intimidating at any age, but older people have more complicating factors than most of us. However, there’s no need for older adults to feel emotionally isolated; if your loved one is experiencing depression and loneliness, and needs someone to reach out to, IOA offers the Friendship Line for older adults to call in times of need. And the good news is, they can also reach out to a local virtual senior center, where they can find companionship, camaraderie, and intellectual stimulation.
So, What is a Virtual Senior Center?
Basically, a virtual senior center is an online platform that promotes ongoing learning, social engagement, and civic involvement through a computer or other Internet-enabled device. It’s an all-in-one platform for email, video chat, online news, and even health and fitness classes. Members can join these classes just like they were really there in a classroom—but it’s basically a video call instead. Participants can also use the platform to connect to other applications like their email, Skype, social media accounts, and news sources. It’s an all-in-one place to get connected—just like a physical senior center location, where activities like reading the newspaper and chatting with visitors can take place at once.
Joining a Virtual Senior Center
Joining a senior center is relatively easy; because they’re online, your loved one doesn’t have to live near one to sign up. Different platforms have different guidelines for membership. One platform, hosted by CJE, wants the user to be interested in being “at” the center for at least 30 hours each month for six months; they really want someone to be part of the community if they sign up. Others, like Microsoft’s partnership with SelfHelp Community Services offer more flexible options, and let older adults take fun classes through video chat. Another relatively new startup, Window to the World, focuses on connectivity over online learning. This service by the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society connects older adults and lets them send and receive photos, and use Skype-like video calling—all through one platform.
Your loved one’s golden years are a chance to find a new hobby, reignite an old passion, and develop a renewed sense of civic engagement. Once they’ve transitioned out of the workforce, they need a new niche—a new source of creative stimulation and community involvement [will link to Group Activity piece once live]. At the virtual senior center, that niche can be found through interacting with peers, and that renewed love of life and learning can stem from taking online courses. The classes offered through these online senior centers vary, but health, arts and crafts, and physical fitness are popular options, with topics including:
- Memory Workouts
- Nutritional Education
- Improving Balance
- Armchair Yoga
- Tai Chi
- Museum Lectures
Even if your loved one already goes to day programs, or is involved at their local senior center, technology can broaden their community and provide a chance to connect—sometimes even for fun, one-time events without committing to membership. For example, the Department for the Aging and Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications partnered with Microsoft to host a virtual bowling match between two senior centers in New York a few years ago, all played through Xbox.
Physical Interaction is Still Vital, but Virtual Community Helps
These programs are a great supplement for older adults’ social lives. While nothing can completely replace a hug, smile, or warm eye contact, virtual communities can bring many of the benefits of socialization to seniors who are unable to routinely make it out to their local senior center. These platforms make it possible for older adults to stay socially active and intellectually engaged online—an experience that can boost their self-esteem and improve their physical well-being.
Contact us to learn more about virtual senior centers, and how IOA can help you and your loved one tap into this growing online community, or assist with any other aspect of your loved one’s life.