10 virtual programs to limit social isolation for seniors

Senior service nonprofits and organizations may find unique benefits to virtual programming for seniors.  This article provides just a few ideas for virtual events and programs you can host remotely to increase social engagement among participants. 
Hosting a virtual chair yoga class is a great way to engage seniors from their homes 
There’s a hidden Covid-19 health crisis that isn’t illuminated enough, as cities and states continue to struggle managing the surge of coronavirus cases. Across the country, older adults and vulnerable populations continue to shelter-in-place with limited contact with their loved ones and society. Even though shelter-in-place measures, lockdowns, and visitor restrictions for seniors intend to uplift their safety, the byproduct of these restrictions is an extreme level of social isolation that is life threatening.

At Mon Ami, we continue to support thousands of seniors across the country by connecting them to younger volunteers for friendly phone calls through our telephone reassurance program. Everyday, we hear how much joy friendly phone calls have brought to the seniors we support as they share how necessary friendly phone calls are to their livelihood and in many cases confide in us the somber realities of social isolation.

Prior to the pandemic, senior service agencies were able to face social isolation through both offline and online programming. Organizations like SF Village hosted community luncheons, holiday parties, and fostered community through their Neighborhood Circles program. These large-scale in-person programming events have their own benefits but take tremendous effort and planning that also face physical constraints due to budgets, neighborhood reach, and physical capacity of event locations.

Given the forcible shift to strictly online programming, organizations might actually find that there are unique benefits to doubling down on virtual efforts. Virtual programs do not share the same physical constraints which allows organizations to reach even more people, not only within the community but also across a wide array of geographies. Additionally, budgets can be shifted away from renting venues and catering events, and reallocated to maximize reach and impact for seniors. With these benefits in mind, here are some virtual programs we believe would greatly benefit your organization!

Telephone Reassurance Programs

As we mentioned above, Mon Ami has been running a telephone reassurance program since the start of the pandemic, facilitating over 3,000 hours of phone calls to socially isolated seniors. We share a deeper look into how your organization can set up a telephone reassurance program in our other article

We love our telephone reassurance program, because it serves as a daily reminder to our team of the importance of our mission: to bring together communities, generations, perspectives and personalities to not just extend lives, but enrich them. Having a friendly phone call program can break barriers between cultures, languages, and generations. One of the seniors we support whose primary language is Japanese shares: “I look forward to my weekly phone call and through this program I believe I can live five more years.”

But beyond the extension of lives, we also love the serendipitous wonder that emerges from matching younger generations with older ones. We were recently reminded of this by a senior we serve, Marlene, who called us back trembling with excitement after her first friendly phone call. She shared how beautiful it was to recognize the difference in generational perspectives in work, where her volunteer was working for a technology company in San Francisco, while in her early career she worked in a library, being a lover of books.

For organizations, friendly caller programs will not only bring joy to the seniors and volunteers who rely on your organization, but will also serve as a constant reminder of how important the work your organization is doing to your volunteer managers. Depending on the seniors your organization serves, don’t be afraid to try to incorporate Facetime or Zoom calls as the medium for how your volunteers connect with seniors.

Virtual Cooking Classes

One of Mon Ami’s partners, Openhouse SF, has brilliantly partnered with 18 Reasons, a culinary school based in San Francisco to offer a virtual cooking class for seniors with Openhouse.

Through this program, seniors have crafted umami burgers, Japanese curry, and other classic, delectable dishes. If hosting a community cooking school is in your ballpark, all you need are some volunteers to deliver the groceries to seniors in advance of the virtual cooking class to ensure they have the right ingredients to cook up a storm!

Openhouse utilizes Mon Ami’s software to notify volunteers of larger volunteer request opportunities to support seniors, with our mobile application allowing for easy coordination for the logistics surrounding delivery addresses of multiple seniors that need service.

Just make sure your seniors can hop on Zoom on time, and hopefully they don’t eat all that fresh produce before class!

Virtual Tech Support Hour

Speaking of not being able to hop on Zoom on time, Openhouse SF also hosts a virtual tech support hour where seniors have the opportunity to receive support from volunteers over the phone to access commonly used applications like Zoom or learn how to use a smartphone!

If your organization would benefit from seniors having more access to technology to host activities like a virtual cooking class, this would be a great way for seniors to get connected while also having a communication line with younger volunteers. Understandably, the first behavior to step in providing tech support for seniors is empathizing with them and instilling confidence that this is something they can learn.

If your organization needs to build a curriculum for tech support from scratch, we recommend taking some inspiration from these 12 tips on coaching tech to the elderly. This resource provides a key list of ten relevant technology skills that would be helpful for seniors while ensuring every support session is grounded in patience, support, and internet safety.

Book Clubs

Hosting a monthly virtual book club can engage a group of seniors with vibrant discussions on curated novels. We love this intergenerational activity as it allows young adults to engage in discourse with seniors that allows both individuals to see the raw generational difference in perspective on various topics.

Certain seniors may have a hard time reading novels. In those cases, we like to set up seniors with Audible, so they can still interact with the books chosen for discussion for every book club meeting!

Mon Ami’s event feature makes it really easy for coordinators to manage book club meetings and participants whether they are seniors or volunteers. Once you create an event in our system, participants of a book club meeting can sign-up for the event and will receive an email confirmation with all the information necessary to access the online event!

If you’re interested in hosting a virtual event for your volunteers or seniors, request a demo of our software today!

Chair Yoga or Mindfulness Sessions

Neha Gothe, Director of the exercise psychology lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shares: “yoga appears to have a positive effect on key areas areas responsible for memory and information processing, as well as emotional regulation.” For many of our seniors, being able to engage physically and practice emotional regulation is an important practice that isn’t done frequently enough.

Over the summer, one of Mon Ami’s incredible volunteers, Arianna, hosted a virtual chair yoga class for our seniors. Again, using Mon Ami’s event feature it’s really easy to schedule larger virtual events for seniors to coordinate timing, participants, and of course the much needed wind down that comes with Yoga. 

Penpal Program

Writing has a tremendous benefit for both the writer and the recipient. Similar to practicing yoga, the act of writing has positive benefits including improved memory function, decreased symptomatology, and greater feelings of happiness. There are incredible synergies between letter writing and and friendly phone calls if your organization is interested in managing both programs.

Given many seniors might lack confidence in using technology, rewinding and using traditional mail might be a more familiar process for them to get in touch with a volunteer or even another senior! One thing is for sure, there’s always a lot of excitement behind the anticipation of opening that next letter you receive!

Poetry Reading

Who doesn’t love a good poetry reading? If your organization loves poetry as much as we do, consider hosting a poetry reading session. Seniors can take turns reading some of their favorite poems, or even better, try hosting an open mic session for any spoken word poets.

For your poetry reading sessions you can choose a theme or here are some of our favorite poems and their associated themes:

Let’s get snapping!

Memoir Writing

Telling your story is a powerful way to share the lessons of your life, and it does not have to be done alone! Connecting a young volunteer to facilitate the writing process for seniors to share their life’s story is a great way to connect a younger generation with seniors for companionship over the phone or virtually.

Provide your volunteers with a set of questions to ask seniors to draw out the narrative around their life experiences. As the senior shares their story, the volunteer can document notes and build drafts of a memoir that can be shared with the senior by email, mail, or if you want to go all out, printed as a hardcover book!

There are so many ways to build your telephone reassurance program that allow you to incorporate different twists to personalize the experience for your seniors.

Web-based games that don’t require downloading

An activity our team loves to do on a weekly basis is play web-based games while chatting on a video call. We like these games because they require teamwork, can be accessed easily, and fire up our competitive spirit!

While this activity might be slightly more challenging for seniors to access, if seniors are able to log onto a Zoom call, as a volunteer coordinator you can always screenshare the games to call participants to ensure everyone is seeing the same page.

Here’s a list of web-based games that we like and are suitable for all ages!

  • Skribbl.io - Similar to pictionary, each player takes turns drawing a random word. Each player has to guess which word is being drawn as quickly as possible! The faster you guess, the more points you earn!
  • Sweet Shuffle - Similar to Candy Crush, AARP has a similar version deemed Sweet Shuffle! Move around the candy pieces to clear the board!
  • Scrabble - Not only will seniors be challenged to come up with words, but they will also have to exercise their mental math skills to keep track of their score!
  • Chess - If your seniors are familiar with this all-time classic board game, consider pairing seniors with each other to play. Better yet, host a tournament for your senior serving organization!

Writers Workshop

If you’re considering a regularly scheduled event over the course of a year, consider hosting a writing class for seniors. While memoir writing workshops can be held as a unit in the class, all forms of writing can be encouraged including poetry writing, narratives, short stories, and more!

Writing classes are a great way for seniors to exercise their creative muscles and engage in conversation about the different pieces they develop through the class!

Get Started Today!
Depending on the bandwidth of your organization, some of the above activities may be more feasible than others. However, it’s important that now, more than ever, we move together to build virtual solutions for seniors to engage in conversation to combat feelings of loneliness in this trying time.

If you need help managing your telephone reassurance program or need help managing and executing large scale events for seniors, whether they are in person or online, request a demo to see if Mon Ami can be the software-based service solution for your organization!