Pilot program offers ‘robust set of online classes to engage homebound and older adults, combat social isolation, and improve connectivity to others’
The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) announced a partnership with the Association on Aging in New York and Selfhelp Community Services to bring Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center (VSC) into the homes of older New Yorkers to improve connectivity, combat social isolation, improve health and wellness. Launching initially with 20 pilot counties, the VSC will be available as a tool to help organizations bring their communities online for more than 700 potential AAA’s.
A press release stated, “Loneliness and isolation among older adults was a public health problem prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic made that worse as most individuals stayed home to stop the spread and stay safe. This resulted in a significant loss of community connectedness.”
Individuals who are isolated and lonely:
√ Have a 59% higher risk of physical and mental health decline;
√ Have a 64% higher risk of dementia; and
√ The effects of isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes/day.
New York State Office for the Aging Director Greg Olsen said, “In an effort to remain safe and slow the spread of the virus, many older New Yorkers gave up their connections to friends, family and community. Technological solutions to improve connectivity and combat isolation and loneliness are critical tools in the tool box and are here to stay. We are thrilled to partner with AANYS and Selfhelp to bring the virtual senior center into the homes of older adults to improve their connectivity, friendships and promote lifelong learning that will benefit them in many ways.”
Association on Aging in NY Executive Director Becky Preve said “The Association on Aging in New York is delighted to partner with NYSOFA and Selfhelp to bring expansive virtual programs to older residents and their families. This partnership allows older New Yorkers access to socialization and education from the comfort of their homes and communities. NYS continues to be a pioneer in bringing innovative services to enrich the aging experience, and this is an additional partnership to enhance our outreach.”
Selfhelp Community Services CEO Stuart C. Kaplan said, “We are now at a moment of opportunity to address social isolation among older adults. We’ve all learned to embrace technology as a tool to stay connected with one another through the pandemic. We are pleased to be offering our Virtual Senior Center to community organizations in partnership with the State Office for the Aging and the Association on Aging in New York to enhance their virtual programming through the pandemic and beyond.”
The press release said, “Technology solutions have grown dramatically over the past year, and Selfhelp's VSC will be part of the new normal. The VSC uses internet-connected computers and tablets to provide face-to-face, real-time interaction for isolated older adults and engaging them in cultural events and other online activities that create a vibrant social community.
“As a vital source of face-to-face social interaction, the VSC enables homebound seniors to participate virtually in intriguing live classes, tour world-famous locations, interact with peers, engage in wellness activities, and, most importantly, expand their social network. The VSC connects older adults to an online forum to stay involved, learn, and offers new ways to reach people outside the traditional bricks and mortar approach.
“By joining the Selfhelp VSC, organizations can quickly leverage the rich content and experience developed over 10 years while also having the opportunity of bringing their local programming to the online community.”
•Classes – VSC activities take place daily, year-round. Participants can log into the VSC whenever they choose, review the calendar of activities, and join whatever interests them. Each day, the program makes available a full schedule of interactive online classes, facilitated by trained volunteers, available in English, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Korean, and includes a health curriculum.
•Instructors – The VSC currently has several hundred facilitators living in 10 states and five countries (U.S., Trinidad, Australia, Brazil and Israel). Eighty-nine facilitators live in the NYC area. Their backgrounds are expansive: There are doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, educators, computer technicians, musicians, authors, nutritionists, physical trainers, social workers, teaching artists, professional organizers, firefighters, scientists and spiritual leaders.
•Partnerships – The VSC has established partnerships with museums, hospitals and universities, all of which contribute content. Live virtual museum tours are a favorite of users, as are holiday celebrations and other special events.
Independent evaluation found Selfhelp's VSC reduced loneliness by 80%, increase connectedness by 60%, and increase self-reported health status (well-being) by 51%.
Moreover, 97% of participants said the VSC improved the quality of their life. Participants have reported they appreciate how attending live and online classes reduce their social isolation and loneliness and increase their social network.