(from Sixty and Me)

My friend and colleague Gloria Hoffner, creator of Science for Seniors, is a one-woman crusade against Bingo in senior living. It’s not that there is no place for it in senior living activities, it’s when it becomes the only and all-consuming activity a community has to offer. Sort of like my mom’s community, which held bingo three nights a week when she was there.

I spoke with Gloria as part of my Caregiver Smile Summit. “Your brain will continue to grow and improve as long as you feed it new information. It’s when you stop feeding it new information that you’re in trouble. If you do the same activity over and over and over, your brain only knows one way to go,” she says.

The brain is resilient. It has been shown to rewire itself when damaged, say, after a stroke. As Gloria notes, “it’s kind of like Waze in that, when faced with a roadblock, it will provide new information to get around the traffic.”

Pandemic as the Roadblock

Well, the pandemic has certainly put up the mother of all roadblocks when it comes to trying to address meaningful activities for older adults, especially in community settings.

Most of society has coped socially and mentally by turning to live-streaming. Senior living not as much. Some places do not have the bandwidth in terms of technology. Others simply are so concentrated on the pandemic, they do not look at new ways to augment activities – even if the activities can actually make their jobs easier. It’s one reason I started Sage Stream, the Senior Entertainment/Education Network..

Here is the knock about live-streams in senior living. It’s no better than putting residents in front of a TV and watch a You Tube video. There is very little interaction involved which offers little in social, mental, and physical benefits.

Overcoming the Roadblocks

Certainly, you have to have technology and bandwidth on either side of the interaction to make live streams work. Here are some things I do to make sure the experience is meaningful:

  • Before the broadcast, take song requests and do the most popular selections of the group.
  • Likewise, ask for milestones of the residents – birthdays, etc. – and do “shout-outs” during the program.
  • In intimate live-streams like Zoom, have actual conversations with people.
  • In large events, use the chat function to communicate.
  • Send any program materials in advance via post or download.

Create an Element of Surprise and Add Diversity

Part of our Network offerings includes a live-stream calendar of events that people can purchase on a subscription basis or individually. The beauty is that on any given week, we change up the roster of people. So we add an element of surprise.

And because we are international in our scope of attracting artists, you open yourself to a world of new possibilities and no longer have to rely on just your local group of entertainers that you routinely used pre-pandemic. And those entertainers in turn can join the Network and be exposed worldwide as well.

People’s Occupation Before Coming into a Community Was Not “Retired”

It is easy to stereotype all older adults as pensioners or retirees because when they present themselves in senior living, that is their status. However, they had careers and interests their entire life.

“My residents never stop being curious,” says Gloria. We have to recognize the intelligence level of our older adults as well as what they are capable of mentally and physically. Gloria jokes: “When we wake up in the morning and as good as exercises are for you, I don’t know anybody who says I can’t wait to get up tomorrow morning and play balloon volleyball.”

Point taken. That is why Gloria’s Science of Seniors is such a big hit and why she is such an integral part of our Network.

Gloria explains: “I never questioned activity directors deciding who should come to my program. But some assumed that they would segregate people on what they thought they wanted. So they let the men attend the science program and had the women scrap-booking. After two months of this, the women would roll themselves away from the scrap-booking table and into the science class.” Then they brought friends.

The point to all this? Older adults are open to new ideas and experiences, like live streams. It can be through the variety of experiences you expose them to as well as the technologies you use to deliver those experiences.

Listen to my interview with Gloria here.

How about you? What activities do you plan with a person you care for? Do you do live streams for an older loved one? What interesting activities have you seen older adults show interest in – both in senior living facilities and when cared for individually?