VIRTUAL SENIOR CENTERS

For senior citizens who can no longer socialize, loneliness is more than a matter of happiness. One New York-based company has found a solution to address the problem by offering seniors a place to connect, learn and play online, using virtual reality to make real friends. David Dring, executive director of Selfhelp Innovations, is here with your tour of Selfhelp Virtual Senior Center (VSC).

Aired on February 6, 2018; August 16, 2018 & October 3, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> I'M MADDY ORTON FOR 'METROFOCUS.'

FOR OLDER AMERICANS LONELINESS IS MORE THAN A MATTER OF HAPPINESS.

LONELINESS IN SENIORS AFFECTSES THEIR HEALTH AND LONGEVITY OF LIVE.

SO WHEN MICROSOFT TEAMED UP WITH SELF HELP A NONPROFIT FOR SENIOR LIVING PEOPLE IN NEW YORK.

THAT'S HOW THE STORY WAS BORN.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SELF HELP INNOVATIONS NOTICED A DISTURBING PATTERN AMONG HIS SENIOR CITIZEN CLIENTS.

SO WHEN HE PARTNERED WITH MICROSOFT, HE KNEW EXACTLY WHERE TO DIRECT THEIR EFFORTS.

WE KNEW A NUMBER OF PEOPLE THAT WOULD GO TO OUR SENIOR CENTERS WOULD FULLY STOP GOING AND FOR ANY NUMBER OF REASON NO LONGER BE ABLE TO ACCESS THE SOCIALIZATION, THE EDUCATION AND THE ENRICHMENT THAT WOULD HAPPEN FOR THEM AT THE SENIOR CENTER.

SO WHAT IF WE WERE TO USE TECHNOLOGY TO BRING SENIOR CENTER TECHNOLOGIES TO PEOPLE IN THEIR HOME.

THE FOCUS OF HIS CAREER HAS BEEN UTILIZING THE TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS TO HELP OLDER CITIZENS LIVE SAFELY, INDEPENDENTLY AND WITH DIGNITY.

BUT THE -- MOST NOTABLY CREATING AN INTUITIVE INTERFACE WITH A GENERATION THAT DIDN'T GROW UP WITH COMPUTERS AND SERVING SOME SENIORS THAT --

AN OLDER ADULT WOULD MAP A MOUSE WITH A MOUSE.

SO THE TAIL WOULD BE THE BACK OF THE MOUSE, SO YOU WOULD TURN IT AROUND AND TRY TO USE THE MOUSE WITH THE TAIL POINTING TO YOU.

AND YOU WOULD GO IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS ON THE SCREEN.

THE VIRTUAL SENIOR CENTER COMPUTERS USE A CUSTOM MADE INTERFACE WHICH BRINGS USERS DIRECTLY TO ITS HOME SCREEN.

AFTER FIVE YEARS, DREAM STILL LOOKS FOR WAYS TO IMPROVE THE SYSTEM.

WE WOULD DO A LOT OF IN HOME TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE CALLS FOR PEOPLE, WITH THE PURPOSE OF WATCHING THEM USE THE DEVICE TO SEE WHAT WAS THE ACTUAL PROBLEM THAT THEY WERE EXPERIENCING AND HOW WE COULD USE THE TECHNOLOGY THE SOLVE THE PROBLEM INSTEAD.

COMPUTERS ARE SOMETIMES FREE OR PROVIDED ON A SLIDING PRICE SCALE AND SET UP IN TRAINING ARE INCLUDED.

WHAT STARTED AS A PILOT PROGRAM OF ABOUT SIX USERS HAS EXPLODED INTO A FULLY ACTIVE SENIOR CENTER, WITH ABOUT 400 MEMBERS AND ABOUT 40 CLASSES A WEEK.

USERS ARE EQUIPPED WITH A BUILT IN CAMERA AND MICROPHONE TO JOIN IN ON LECTURES, CLASSES, CON SERTZ SERTS AND EVEN FITNESS.

IT'S BEEN A GAME CHANGER FOR SENIOR JOHN GATUS.

HE HAD BEEN VISITING SELF HELP BRICK AND MORTAR CENTERS FOR COMPUTER CLASSES UNTIL HIS WIFE PASSED AWAY AND HE SUFFERED TWO STROKES MAKING LEAVING THE HOUSE A CHALLENGE.

BEING ABLE TO USE THIS COMPUTER AND HAVING COMPUTER CLASSES HERE AND NOT HAVING TO GO TO THE CENTER, IT'S OPENED UP A WHOLE NEW REALITY FOR ME.

THROUGH PHYSICAL THERAPY, I WAS ABLE TO GET BACK TO WALKING.

NOW I DON'T WANT TO GIVE THIS UP ANYMORE.

GATUS HAS HIS LONG TIME FRIENDS AND HOBBIES, BUT HE SAYS THE VIRTUAL SENIOR CENTER PROVIDES SOMETHING NEW IN HIS LIFE, AND THAT'S EXCITING.

HE TRAVELS REMOTELY AND DISCOVERS NEW PLACES, LEARNING PIECES OF DIFFERENT LANGUAGES ALONG THE WAY, ALL FROM THE COMFORT OF HIS OWN HOME, SOMETIMES ACT KCOMPANIED BY HIS FURRY SIDE KICK THEO.

IT'S LIKE HAVING SOMEBODY IN THE HOUSE.

Reporter: TO BENEFIT FROM THE CLASSES IT PROVIDES CAN BE EXTRAO EXTRAORDINARY.

JANICE BAKER HAS MS, SHE LOVES TO BE ACTIVE AND USED TO WALK TO THE GYM EVERY DAY, BUT RECENTLY SHE'S BECOME MORE HOME BOUND.

TODAY SHE JOINS JOHN GATUS AND OTHERS TO PARTICIPATE IN MUSIC AND DISCUSSION.

IT'S AMAZING WHAT YOU CAN TWO NOT ONLY DANCING IN A CHAIR BUT EXERCISING IN THE CHAIR, NOT ONLY MY LEGS BUT MY SPIRITS.

ALSO AT TODAY'S CLASS IS.

S I WAS JUST ABOUT BURNED OUT.

BUT WITH THIS MENTAL STIMULATION FROM THIS PROGRAM, WHERE WE HAVE A LOT OF DIFFERENT MUSIC AND WE TAKE EXERCISES, NOW MY DOCTOR SAYS ALL MY TESTS ARE COMING BACK WITHIN THE NORMAL RANGE.

BEYOND THE BENEFITS FROM PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STIMULATION, BROOKS SAYS THE SENIOR CENTER WILL ALLOW FOR BETTER OVERALL CARE MOVING FORWARD.

HE FOUND IN TESTING WITH CASE'S SELF HELP PROGRAM LED TO MORE PRODUCTIVE CHECK INS THAN THOSE ZONE OVER THE PHONE.

WE HAD ONE PERSON WHO WAS PART OF OUR CASE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM FOR THREE OR FOUR MONTHS OVER THE SUMMER, THEY WERE DOING THEIR MONTHLY PHONE CALL CHECK IN AND EVERYTHING SOUNDED FINE.

AND THEN THEY PUT THE MAN ON THE COMMUTER AT THE SENIOR CENTER.

AND WE FOUND THAT THE GUY WAS SWEATING.

HE SAID MY AIR CONDITIONER IS BROKEN.

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US?

AGAIN THE BODY LANGUAGE THAT HAPPENS IS SO IMPORTANT IN UNDERSTANDING WHAT A PERSON'S D ACTUAL SITUATION IS IT.

BUT FOR GATUS NOTHING BEATS THE OPPORTUNITY TO USE THE COMPUTER AND VISIT DIFFERENT PLACES EVERY DAY.

I'M TAKING DOG TRAINING LESSONS.

AND WE'RE GOING TO LEARN AREN'T WE?

I'M GOING TO LEARNA.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019