Senior Citizens & the Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the way of life for many people around the world. In our community, specifically, the way we operated changed drastically on March 17, 2020, when a shelter-in-place order was put into effect for many counties in the San Francisco area. The lockdown left many people on edge and not knowing how to adjust.
Pre-pandemic, many seniors already lived a fairly secluded lifestyle. During the pandemic, this issue was exacerbated. Like many, seniors fear stepping outside their homes in fear of contracting the virus, especially given their intensified vulnerability. Daily tasks like going to the grocery store, picking up prescriptions, or simply going for a walk became anxiety and fear evoking. Seniors who were impacted by the isolation caused by the pandemic will most likely remain more secluded for longer than others, even as more and more people are vaccinated.
Seniors & Isolation
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has recognized that COVID-19 Pandemic aside, “societal trends have led us to the point where older adults are more likely to be isolated or lonely.” The NCOA explains that seniors “are no longer in the workforce, are more likely to live alone, and have fewer social connections over time. In addition, their extended families may be more geographically dispersed than in past generations, making it difficult to maintain in-person familial contact.” This could not be more true for our community as our seniors have friends and family not only all over California or even all over the United States, but over 6,000 miles away across the world in Italy. Social connections and relationships are known to be beneficial for emotional and mental health, but it is also important for physical health. Isolation carries immense potential health risk factors according to a study conducted in 2018.
The challenge of isolation in seniors is only magnified by their lack of understanding when it comes to technology. Many of our still seniors only have house phones or flip phones with no internet capabilities. This lack of technology use has not only impeded their ability to socialize as many of us have during the pandemic, but even take added precautions available like ordering groceries or connecting with their doctor via a video call.
ICS Community Efforts
ICS recognized the dramatic impact of isolation and quickly worked to support our vulnerable communities in ways we never had before, including phone calls, care packages, meal deliveries, pen pal programs, and more. Through these programs and services, our goal was not only to ensure seniors were well taken care of but to maintain a sense of community and bring hope.
For most of our seniors, the most social interaction they experienced through the pandemic was when our team delivered care packages in which we wore masks and socially distanced. We can all agree that these conditions of interaction are far from ideal. Not being able to clearly see one’s face. Not being able to simply receive a comforting hug. It all takes its toll, and after only a few months of this, ICS wanted to provide something more to our seniors.
ICS began researching and developing a plan to connect our community again. We wanted to find a way to give seniors access to technology that made daily interaction with loved ones accessible. We went to work to ensure the most vulnerable of our community were not left isolated.
ICS to the Rescue
After months of research and preparation, ICS developed a program that would give seniors access to the technology needed to connect to friends and family. ICS decided that the best solution was to provide seniors with the devices necessary to connect via video chat. But that was not the only requirement. ICS also needed to make these devices senior-friendly and provide lessons on how to operate these devices. So, ICS went to work.
The first step was purchasing devices. After researching and connecting with various sources and determining what type of device was best, we decided on Samsung tablets from T-Mobile to ensure quality customer service and assistance if needed by our team or the seniors. After purchasing these devices, ICS programmed these devices to be extremely user-friendly; imputing contacts for seniors, arranging the apps, and ensuring the interface was easy to read and understand. And finally, ICS volunteers visited these seniors to not only deliver the devices but also teach them how to use the devices. ICS hopes that these devices will not only allow these seniors to interact with friends and family on a consistent basis while the pandemic begins to slow, but also for the future of our senior community as well.
Stories of Seniors & Their Tablets
When the first group of tablets was rolled out, our seniors and even our team members were moved to tears as we helped them connect on their first video call.
Two of the first seniors to receive the devices were childhood best friends in a small village in Friuli, Italy. In their early 20’s, they migrated to the United States together, and as happens in life, they drifted apart as they went separate ways. Years later, they discovered they both lived in San Francisco and only 3 streets away from each other! Since then, they have talked and seen each other each day until the pandemic struck. They’re family. They even have grandchildren named after each other. The pandemic impeded them from seeing each other and thanks to our newest initiative, they now video call each day. Though they’ve chatted frequently during this time via phone calls, the tears that sprang to their eyes at seeing each other – even through a screen – and seeing that the other has truly stayed safe and healthy during such scary times brought our team to tear.
Another senior who received a tablet connected with her only living relative who lives in Europe. She is widowed and last saw her niece 10 years ago. Thanks to ICS she now video calls her niece each day. The first time she saw her niece on the Samsung tablet her eyes filled with tears. She felt the weight of not seeing her family melt away and her heart became filled with extreme joy, filling our teams’ hearts with joy in the process.
These tablets aren’t just for the present pandemic, but the future. It will be easier than ever for seniors to check in with their doctors via video calls. To order groceries and have them delivered, and not have to haul them around. To connect with loved ones all over the world. We aren’t just fighting isolation. We’re connecting seniors to support and opportunities that they may have never even knew existed before this.
To learn more about the campaign please visit https://italiancs.networkforgood.com/projects/125716-senior-friendly-devices.