On Tuesday, July 26th, I was visiting my 15 year old grandson, Gabe, in Eugene, Oregon. Gabe and I have always had a great connection. Over the years we connected through Lego building, collecting Pokemon cards, and more recently with Snapchat. The last time we were together, he and I talked about how much we miss the old days when we played together, as he is now so busy with school and track practice.
When I saw in my newsfeed about the new Pokemon app on Sunday, the 24th, I texted Gabe and asked him if he had downloaded it. Yes, he had! When I arrived in Eugene, we decided to go to the University of Oregon campus and have dinner, and try out the new app. The Olympic trials were going on, so a lot of people were on campus, and it was hilarious to see people walking around with their phones, hunting Pokemon. Gabe and I walked and laughed and talked and captured Pokemon for 3 hours! It was an awesome connection for us both.
I was born in the 40’s and grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. It is a different world now, and I am grateful for the power of social media to keep me connected to my grandchildren who do not live near me.
The elders who live at home or in Assisted Living communities can benefit from the connections social media can facilitate for them. I have seen it happening in the communities I visit. We encourage our care team members to help the elders connect with their families, and the outside world. In the process the care team members make a special connection with the elders and develop deeper relationships.
In one community in Roswell New Mexico, Ms. Virginia was not able to travel to San Antonio to attend the wedding of her granddaughter due to fragile health. The Executive Director, Mary Beth, contacted the family and asked if they could stream the wedding through a smart phone or an iPad so that their grandmother could be there. Ms. Virginia had a front row seat as she watched the wedding on an iPad from her apartment in Roswell, and even got to speak with her family face to face. Both Mary Beth and Virginia shed tears of joy and gratitude.
In another community, the Life Enrichment Director was introducing social media during a resident council meeting, and Skyped me in from my home in Las Vegas to talk with them. At first the residents thought they were watching a movie until I started greeting them by name!
Face time is being used in one of the Memory Care Communities I visit. The daughter lives in another state, and every night she calls her father on his iPhone and they talk about his day, and she wishes him sweet dreams, and he tells her he loves her.
I talked to one 87 year old elder who was introduced to Facebook while I was visiting. The care team called her family to let them know she was on Facebook, and they were able to video chat that evening. The next morning when I went back into the community the elder told me, “I got 8 likes last night!” Her family had notified some old friends, and she was connected with people she had not heard from in 40 years.
I saw one 92 year old man with headphones and an iPad. I asked him what he was watching. He said, “I am watching youtube videos about gardening. This has opened a whole new world for me.” Another woman who grew up in New York was able to do google earth, and virtually walk down the street where she grew up.
It is a basic human need to be connected to one another. It is also crucial to our well-being that we all continue to learn and grow through childhood, through adulthood, and into elderhood. Let’s create places where the elders are the center of the community, where we facilitate connections, and grow and learn together.
Watch this short trailer Cyber Seniors from a documentary created by teenage sisters with a mission to remain connected to their own grandparents, and in the process changed the lives of many.
About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada. She spends her leisure time with her husband Art, her dog Max, her cat Molly, and a 50-year-old desert tortoise named Myrtle.