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Quality of life improvements for seniors -- small, low-tech

After reading this week about the Senate Aging in Place testimony and recommendations (see in-depth description from Intel's Eric Dishman), it is discouraging to read about the major barriers to adoption of 'e-Care'. So it's a pleasure to talk about a few cheap, low-tech, big benefit ways to improve quality of life of seniors -- as we come into those two Hallmark seasonal events -- Mother's and Father's Day. The seniors you help, of course, don't have to be relatives -- they could be neighbors, they could be members of a community, or visitors to a local senior center.

Start up a Senior Center Without Walls. An ASA webinar yesterday offered up the lowest tech community program I've heard about yet. Presented by Terry Englehart, Director, it was all about Senior Center Without Walls, a 'Telephone Community for Homebound Elders' in California sponsored by Episcopal Senior Communities. Seniors (some may be in Meals on Wheels or other senior programs) dial a toll-free number, punch in a code, and participate in a conversation, a class, a health discussion, brain 'aerobics' or a telephone travelogue...and even form friendships, all from their own home and phone. The courses and sessions are facilitated by volunteers and material is mailed to seniors in advance. Participants can receive birthday cards, supportive calls, and participate in celebrations of each other's accomplishments -- reminders are offered on the morning of the call. Costs to get started offering the program $600 for 12 week of 2 weekly half-hour groups of 8 people each. For those who want to give this a try, send an e-mail to info at -- asking for the slide deck.

Create a life story video of an older person.  Last week's NY Times New Old Age blog, "Remembering the Last Act" by Paula Span is worth a look-- it's about a family that created a video (embedded in the blog post) of a 75-year-old's birthday party on what was clearly the cusp of worsening dementia. It's a charming short film of a charming woman, but what struck me was Paula Span's observation that anyone could put together a video of an older person for very little money -- a great project for a young teenager, posting it on on Youtube and then showing the 'star' what it looks like on a computer or even from a smart phone. Videos seems as easy to do for volunteers (as they are for vendors) at a local senior center, assisted living or nursing home, and easy to show on the organization's own computer, easy to e-mail to far-flung family. If you know of such a place, ask them if they do this.

Help a senior with a cell phone. Yesterday I chatted with a volunteer at a Florida senior center who told me how seniors who come in for the meals, bingo, and the movie are struggling with many aspects of their lives, with no nearby family members, only social service case workers who are assigned to a backlog of needs assessments that include finding programs to to help seniors pay electric bills. One bafflement she noted -- the cell phone purchased by a long-distance adult son -- how to program it to call 911 as a son wants. The volunteer offered to program the phone, but wondered how many others are burdened by cell phones they don't understand, but that could help them in an emergency? Again, do organizations have volunteers that offer this help?

A final note. In the Q&A portion of the "Senior Centers Without Walls" session, Terry Englehart was asked about the percentage of program participants who have a computer -- which she agreed could enhance the experience, for example, of travel-related discussions.  Her reply: surveys they have done indicate 20% (of these home bound seniors) have a computer in their home -- which is higher than one might expect for home-bound seniors.  It makes you wonder, what about a multi-media 'Senior Center Without Walls' that combines web conferencing with telephone dial-in? And what about offering online courses in activity programs in senior centers -- or senior housing?


Area Agencies on Aging and Senior Centers could and should sponsor Senior Centers without Walls social, educational programs in conjunction with Lifelong Learning programs.

If you follow the social and mind engagement through phases from independent to frail -- there is a learning and social continuum that is disconnected:

Independent -- volunteering, working part-time, taking Lifelong Learning courses at a local college

Older, more isolated -- socializing, meals, and activities at a local senior center.

Oldest, most frail and isolated -- loss of work, volunteering, socializing, community meals, learning opportunities.

Lifelong learning programs, led by area agencies on aging, fueled by referrals from home care organizations, can extend a social and mentally stimulating lifeline to the loneliest and most isloated seniors.  They can do this by pooling their non-profit grants and donations and reaching out to the organizations that know home bound seniors who would welcome participation.

And libraries.  According to AARP, The Queens Library's Mail-a-Book program has added telephone discussion groups for home-bound seniors.

Here are two "free" sources that could help anyone set up a meeting site or video conference. Simply dial in, sign up in five minutes and you will have your own conference bridge for up to 25 people. The telephone number and Entry (PIN) number stay the same forever so you can tell everyone to call in at 1PM CST on Monday. This is a free video conference site. It takes a little time to learn but is really pretty simple. It allows you to share pictures, files and power point presentations with up to 25 people who connect via thier computers and the internet. Naturally, video conferencing is much better when you have broadband internet services.

See you on the internet or talk to you on the telephone soon.


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