Microsoft Corp., the city of New York and Selfhelp Community Services Inc. recently unveiled their Virtual Senior Center, a public-private partnership and demonstration project that is showing how cities can use technology to revitalize senior centers and enhance the lives of homebound seniors. The Virtual Senior Center uses computer, video and Internet technology to create an interactive experience for homebound seniors that reduces social isolation and gives them better access to community services. The project links six homebound seniors (ranging in age from 67 to 103) to Selfhelp’s Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, Queens and each home is equipped with a desktop computer as well as a touch-screen monitor, a small video camera, a microphone and broadband Internet service.
Video cameras and monitors have been strategically placed around the senior center to enable the homebound seniors to interact with classmates and instructors at the center, and to take part in activities such as armchair yoga, painting classes, current events discussions and tai chi. Using the technology, seniors at home can see and hear the other people in the class and actively participate in two-way discussions and activities. Since beginning the project, some have even made new friends. It’s Never 2 Late, a Colorado company that creates specialty technology packages for seniors, provides the custom interface. The Virtual Senior Center project included a psycho-social assessment that measured a number of attitudes, health attributes and emotional factors for the six participating seniors at the start of the program and at various stages. As a group, the seniors showed marked improvement throughout the course of the project.
"The New York City Department for the Aging is deeply committed to improving the quality of life for older New Yorkers, and this partnership with Microsoft and Selfhelp Community Services in creating the Virtual Senior Center is one more step toward making New York City the most age-friendly city in the nation," said Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA). "Senior centers are the social hub for many older New Yorkers, and this new model — the Virtual Senior Center — has shown us that technology will help seniors age in place and remain integrated into the community by bringing that same senior center experience into the home."
"The opportunity for homebound seniors to interact virtually with caregivers, providers, peers, family members and friends has made a significant and measurable difference in the quality of their lives," said Becky Bigio, director, Selfhelp Senior Source Geriatric Care Management Program. "Nearly all the candidates have described feeling more connected to others and show an increasing awareness and appreciation of those connections."