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Connecting To Community

October 7, 2013, 10:02 PM by Hailey Higgins

Connecting To Community

An estimated one in five senior citizens is isolated according to a new study from AARP. That means they're separated from family and friends.

While social isolation can cause loneliness, depression, anxiety and other emotional disorders, a new pilot project is helping bridge the gap between older Americans and the people they love.

At the Good Samaritan Society's Creekside Apartments, a group of senior citizens learn how to send an email to the person sitting next to them through an iPad.

"It's frustrating," Sandie Boucher said. "I'm really looking forward to knowing more."

Boucher compares the iPad lessons to learning a new language. The communication is completely foreign to the grandmother.

"This is really an opportunity for us to be able to communicate with my family, they are all at a distance. It's fun but it's frustrating," Boucher said.

The classes are part of the AARP Foundation's Connecting to Community pilot program through the Good Samaritan Society. The first pilot launched in Washington D.C., but organizers wanted to bring it to a more "rural" part of the country.

"It's huge for this area, we are so excited to be apart of it," Stacy Smallfield, USD Associate Professor overseeing the program volunteers said.

Studies show using technology like iPads increases social engagement among older adults. Yet many are unable to take advantage of the benefits because they don't know how to use them.

"We need to keep them engaged members of society and this is one pilot program we are testing to see if it is one successful way of doing that," Smallfield said.

Good Sam recruited University of South Dakota social work and occupational therapy graduate students to teach the participants how to use the iPads, social media and apps.

Betsy Haag helps instruct the 55 seniors enrolled in the pilot program. Older Adults Technology Services, a national organization in New York, came to South Dakota to train the volunteers.

The twice-a-week classes include instruction and a lab, as well as homework for the senior students. It's all in baby steps as to not overwhelm them.

"It's pretty intimidating if you think of their era of growing up and writing letters and receiving letters," Good Samaritan Society President David Horazdovsky said. "That doesn't happen often."

And while they set up their email accounts on the second week of class, at the end of the six week program, they will have social media accounts and know how to video chat.

Classes are happening simultaneously at four Good Samaritan sites in Sioux Falls. If things continue to go well, organizers expect the program to take off across the country.

"That's the exciting part," Horazdovsky said. "We're going to learn and see what scalability there might be."

While it may be difficult at first, Boucher is excited to see where the new technology will take her.

"Well I'll be able to stay in touch and get the family news," Boucher said. "Because they are all at a distance from us."

Organizers say they already have a few standout students who are teaching their classmates how to use the iPads - one of them is in her 90s.

Upon completion of the program, the senior participants will be able to keep the iPads.

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