SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — Before coronavirus gripped the world, aging adults could connect with one another in person. But now, a lot of them are stuck in isolation to protect themselves from COVID-19.
"We know that social isolation and boredom can be a big part in the issues that older adults face, even before the pandemic started," said Afton January, a spokesman for Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services. "So we thought about what we could do to make sure that we are still talking with and engaging with and connecting with our senior center participants."
This problem inspired Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services to create the Virtual Senior Center.
It's an online space that offers a variety of classes for people aged 60 and older.
Allison Dieterle is one of the 500 aging adults now using the service.
She said she's been doing classes at the Virtual Senior Center since it moved online last summer.
"I don’t know that I’m tech savvy, but they’ve really made it as easy as possible," Dieterle said. "I take Zumba, I take enhanced fitness, I take Thai Chi, I take yoga, I take a mindfulness class. It’s amazing."
The Virtual Senior Center is giving her and other seniors like her a chance to make new friends and boost their technology skills at the same time.
"I wouldn’t know how to start a Zoom call, but I can join one," Dieterle said.
To take part in the classes, that's just about all they need to know, but there are even classes on the Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services YouTube page that teach seniors how to use a smartphone.
There's also a hotline that aging adults can call to get help and get signed up at 385-468-3299.
"We have the capacity to grow," January said. "We see about 15,000 people at our senior centers every year, so maybe by this time next year the dream would be to have the Virtual Senior Center serving all of those people."
Thanks to a grant through Cares Act funding from Utah State University, Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services was able to buy 30 new iPads.
These can be loaned out to seniors who may not have access to their own computer, smartphone or tablet to take part in these virtual classes.
"We open all of our classes 15 minutes before the start time just to allow people the chance to chat with the other people in the class because they’ve made friends with each other," said Marianne Christensen, the health promotion manager at Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services said,
Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services says it does intend to keep the Virtual Senior Center going even after the pandemic so it can continue to fight senior isolation and loneliness.