Never Too Late: Seniors Retool with Technology

Elnora Brown reaches up to the computer monitor with her right index finger and touches “start” on the screen. She is now the emcee for the group of residents gathered in the dining area of Volunteers of America’s Eastland Care Center in Columbus, Ohio, for what will become a wildly fun rendition of a formerly popular TV game show.

“Give me a number. We’ve got to pick our lucky number here,” Elnora shouts to her friends and their family members. They are watching a projection of the computer screen Ms. Brown is working.

It's been decided that Elnora needs to find No. 4 on the screen. She scans the monitor with her forefinger. She spots it, touches the screen and beams as she has just launched a session of wheeling and dealing in which the residents will find out if their suitcase contains a paltry penny or a $1 million virtual prize.

For the next 25 minutes, the group works through a variety of strategy exercises—evaluating offers of the animated host to sell the No. 4 suitcase and selecting sequences of other suitcases to work through a process of elimination and guess how much virtual money is in the chosen suitcase. Everyone laughs and claps and promises to meet again for another game in a day or two, before retiring for the night. 

Lifelong Learning

This combination of cognitive activity, interpersonal engagement, technical skill building and just plain fun is exactly what Jack York had in mind when he started It’s Never 2 Late (IN2L) in 1999.The Colorado-based company creates customized computer systems with therapeutic and entertainment content and adapted hardware for use in nursing homes, assisted living communities and adult day programs in 26 states.

Eastland was the pilot site for Volunteers of America’s use of IN2L in a skilled nursing facility. Volunteers of America first introduced the technology at its assisted living communities in Minnesota and Nevada six years ago.

“I saw life-changing results in a handful of the first few seniors who connected with family or old friends through-mail or tracked down a lost relative(via the Web),” says York of his first test of putting computers in a California facility in the 1990s. “But I could tell right away there was no way many of the residents could use a regular computer. They had the right mindset and wanted to learn, but there were physical barriers.”

York saw the seniors struggle with keyboards and the mouse, and he also encountered a nursing home industry not yet ready to blend technology, therapy and activities so he set out to find adaptive technologies and learn more about the nursing home industry. At a conference, he met Wayne Olson, senior vice president of Healthcare Operations and Development, for Volunteers of America National Services. Now, Volunteers of America has moved from being one of the early test sites in 2004 to one of three major investment partners in IN2L, joining Covenant Health Network and Health Resources Alliance.

“For many, we’ve seen that ultimate sense of ‘I can learn something new,’ ”York says. “We’ve seen many people far down the road of dementia interact. That’s been one of our biggest findings—don’t give up on people who maybe in a different place cognitively. There are ways to connect with them.”

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