Virtually Thriving: AGE Connects Clients Online

Wednesday, April 22nd 2020

If you ask her, Grace Morris will happily tell you her favorite thing about the AGE Thrive Social and Wellness Center. In fact, she’ll probably tell you three.

“Playing games,” she said. “Eating's a good one too. And there's a lot of people you meet. So you have some companionship when you go there.”

Grace has been attending the center for almost two years. It’s a big part of her life. It's where she hangs out with her friends and gets exercise. And for her daughter Zoi, it’s a trusted place that cares for her mom during the day.

“They’re there when we can’t be there,” she said.

Having a reliable place to take care of her mom is crucial. AGE specializes in helping older adults who are dealing with dementia and Alzheimers, diseases that require a lot of supervision. The Thrive Center gives caretakers like Zoi space to go to work or run errands that would otherwise be difficult to do during the day.

So it’s understandable why both Zoi and Grace were sad when AGE had to close their doors in March due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“She misses it a lot,” Zoi said. “It provides a lot of structure and routine for her.”

Covid-19 forced AGE to temporarily shut its doors over concern for the health and wellbeing of their high risk community. The CDC has reported 8 out of 10 Covid-19 related deaths in the U.S were people over 65. Their recommendations for older adults look a lot like the rules most people have been trying to follow — stay at home, wash your hands and keep at least 6 feet away from others. But the self-isolation necessary to keep seniors safe from the disease is particularly detrimental to folks dealing with dementia and Alzheimer's.

“One of the things about aging that we know is that social connections are really important,” said Annette Juba, deputy director of AGE of Central Texas. “And when people feel lonely or feel isolated their health can decline as well.”

Studies have shown that loneliness can increase the risk for dementia, and Alzheimers. Staff at AGE didn’t want to risk their clients’ health with Covid-19, but wanted to make sure they didn’t backslide mentally or physically. So, they got creative.

“Things like bingo,” said Lauren Duerkson, program director for the Austin Thrive Center. “Make people still feel connected, know that we're still here for them even if it doesn't look the same as it used to.”

Things do look a little different. The ball tumbler and the board are in place at the Thrive Center, but instead of a crowd, staff call out numbers to a computer and clients across the state tune in online to play. Part of the fun is keeping up routines. Bingo is played Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. just like they would at the Center. Then, there’s the responses.

“I don’t know if you caught it, but Holly called B-4, and she tried to get someone to do the response, which is, ‘B-4 what?” Lauren said. “And then someone said, ‘Before Lunch!’

AGE offers other activities too. There are virtual tours of landmarks and national parks, and links to sites with different activities like coloring pages and puzzles. AGE now offers a weekly schedule of all online programs like chair yoga or group chats. Whatever activity grabs their interest, they all share a common goal — make clients feel engaged and connected.

“I kept hearing from people that we've never done this before! And we can all relate to that, none of us have done this before,” Lauren said. “You can see they’re excited to see us and to see each other, which is really amazing when you consider most of these people have dementia, and you can tell they have a really strong connection to us, our voices, our faces. And that just shows the impact we can have. They can still connect with us.”

Even though she’s new to it, Grace is getting pretty technologically savvy.

“If I can figure out which buttons to push, it’s right there and I can see them,” she said.

But she’s also optimistic about seeing her friends in person sometime soon.

“We’ll be back,” she said. “We’ve been through wars, this is just something we have to live through right now.”

WANT TO HELP THE HELPERS? AGE is accepting videos from folks showing off their creative side, whether that’s playing music, making crafts, or gardening. For more information on ways you can help, visit www.ageofcentraltexas.org

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