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Digital Outreach Connects Isolated Seniors throughout Pandemic

When you think of the typical tech user, the image of an older adult is not one that comes to mind very often. This population has tended to be the least connected to cyberspace and least likely to own a smartphone or other digital device.

But as a result of the pandemic, which forced most into some type of isolation and physical distancing, many older adults have had little choice but to turn to digital forms of communication to stay connected. At Circle of Care, we have worked with clients and caregivers to help them transition to online programming and digital connection by providing assistance to those who needed it. Below, we highlight three ways in which we’ve helped our clients and their families remain safe, active, and connected through technology:

Connecting Isolated Older Adults to the Web with Breezie

Prior to the pandemic, Circle of Care was working on a project to bring connectivity to isolated seniors in their homes. This project, a partnership with Breezie, took on new meaning after the government initiated a lockdown in Ontario.

Through the Breezie program, isolated clients of ours were given a “Breezie tablet”, an electronic tablet with an internet connection and an accessible and easy-to-use interface filled with customized apps and programs.

“If you don’t have any experience with a computer at all, this tablet is the way to do it,” says Lou Vandelman. Lou is one of the clients who received a tablet in the pilot phase of the Breezie program. “I love my tablet because it has a lot of software in it, and it has lots of apps that I can play with. I use it to connect with my family through video chat, and to learn something new every day.”

To help our clients navigate the tablets, we collaborated with a group of University of Toronto students, who created “how to” manuals for our clients. The manuals included topics such as how to join a Zoom call, how to sign up for an event on Eventbrite, along with resource manuals for museums, traveling, cooking, and exercise.

One of our programs that has greatly benefitted from the Breezie tablets has been our Adult Day Program (ADP). The program, which provides older adults with dementia the opportunity to socialize in a supportive and caring environment, had to turn to online programming in March 2020. This greatly minimized the number of clients who could participate in activities, because many of the clients didn’t have internet access.

By providing clients and caregivers with Breezie tablets, these families were able to stay connected and active with the program.

“We had a client who used the Breezie tablet to connect to one of our musical programs. When I played ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra, he and his wife started dancing together in their kitchen. It was a really beautiful moment,” recalls Jennifer Matthews, one of our ADP recreationists.

While the ADP program has been able to run programming in-person between the waves of the pandemic, spots for clients have been greatly restricted and the majority of clients have had to remain connected online.

“We rely on the caregivers to help facilitate virtual programming for our clients,” says Jennifer. “And while that can be a challenge if they run into any technical issues, most of them have mastered the learning curve by now.”

Jennifer Matthews facilitating an online Strengthen & Stretch Program for seniors in the ADP.

Jennifer, along with the rest of the ADP staff, are eagerly looking forward to the upcoming easing of restrictions, which will allow the Adult Day Program to run at a higher capacity. But until that happens, she is grateful that the Breezie tablets have helped to provide connections for a group of clients and caregivers that were otherwise excluded.

“The Breezie tablets and our online programming have been such a blessing to our clients, as it gives them a sense of community, belonging, engagement, and power,” says Jennifer.

EZ Assist Provides Peace of Mind with the Touch of a Button

Another innovative launch that took place during the pandemic has been the introduction of our EZ Assist app. Since September 2020, clients and caregivers have had the opportunity to connect with us and stay involved in their care schedule through the touch of an app on their mobile device. 

Debbie, the daughter of one of our clients, lives in Victoria, B.C., hundreds of kilometres away from her mother. She has responded positively to the app and likes the transparency into her mother’s schedule. 

“My favourite thing about this app is that it keeps me in the loop and involved from a distance,” says Debbie. “I know who’s giving my mom care and when they’ll be there.” 

In addition to being able to view their upcoming schedule, our clients and their families can cancel appointments through the app. Having the ability to view confirmation that a prior appointment has taken place has also been helpful for families, especially those who are caring for a loved one with dementia or other memory loss, and who may not remember whether a visit has taken place. With the app, families can see in real time whether the visit has actually occurred.

Many families of our clients live at a distance from their loved ones, and during the pandemic, visits have likely been decreased to keep everyone safe. Through the EZ Assist app, both clients and caregivers can remain informed and connected to the care they are receiving from Circle of Care. For more information or to download the app, visit our EZ Assist information page.

Exercising from the Comfort of Their Homes

Pre-pandemic, our Exercise and Falls Prevention clients participated in classes across various locations in north Toronto and York Region, including apartment buildings and community centres. Not only were classes a way for clients to keep accountable for fitness, but they were also an outlet for older adults to socialize with each other.

After the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person classes, Circle of Care’s program pivoted to online classes. Last June, we held our first online class for clients. Participants logged onto ZOOM and watched our instructor guide them through exercise techniques while they followed along from home.

Initially, the virtual program started as a weekly Friday class, but due to its popularity, the program quickly grew to 15 classes per week in a span of five months.

“My soft goal was to have 20 participants in each class. But it quickly blew past that point,” says Laura Tichonchuk, Exercise and Falls Prevention Supervisor. “We started having 34 people, then 46, and now we’re at 50 participants consistently in almost every class.”

Initially, there was a concern that few older adults would want to use an online platform for exercising. But there’s been a great response and most participants had little to no issues accessing the online program and are very comfortable with connecting online.

“We’ve built this cool little virtual community,” says Laura. “Having this platform where our clients can exercise in the comfort of their own homes during the pandemic has benefited them in so many ways.”

One of the clients benefitting from the program is June Elliot. June has been participating in online classes since the beginning, and she’s one of the program’s most consistent and frequent participants.

Exercise & Falls Prevention Supervisor Laura Tichonchuck leading a zoom session.

“I didn’t mind the pandemic at all, and I think that’s because of these classes,” she says. “I like not having to dress up or go to class with a certain appearance. The online class is much more time effective because you can just turn on the class and start exercising.”

Diana Frank has been exercising with Circle of Care classes for over 11 years. When classes moved online, she says she found the virtual program easy to navigate and control.

“From the very beginning, I felt very comfortable with it. I didn’t have any problems transitioning to a virtual program,” says Diana. “And I like the freedom of the Zoom classes. To do something during the pandemic is amazing.”

Through the online classes, our clients have been able to stay active and connected at a distance, while being safe during the pandemic.

And as for June, she’s adapted to online classes so much that she’s come to prefer them. “I was asking myself if I would go back to regular classes once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. But, honestly, I would prefer the virtual classes!” she says.

Diana, participating in a Exercise & Falls Prevention zoom class.

If you or a loved one are interested in participating in our online exercise classes, visit our Exercise and Falls Prevention page for class details and to register.