Salt Lake County Finding New Ways To Connect With Seniors
MIDVALE, Utah – COVID-19 has been especially tough on Utah’s senior population, both in fatalities and when it comes to feelings of loneliness and isolation. So Salt Lake County is reaching out to seniors with brand new activities in new ways to help them connect with their peers.
“Social isolation is a very real problem for older adults,” said Afton January, communications manager for Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services.
Ever since COVID-19 arrived in Utah four months ago, the 16 senior centers in Salt Lake County have been shut down for safety reasons. But because many seniors miss their friends, officials with Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services are trying new tactics to help them reconnect.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Midvale Mayor Robert Hale visited the Midvale Senior Center to take a look at some of the new content and programming that is being offered.
They checked out an online exercise class as part of the new “Virtual Senior Center.” They also talked with the AAS staff about innovative changes they have made to their programming in order to reach out to seniors during the pandemic.
“The day that we had to close our senior centers was one of the most heartbreaking days of my time in office,” said Wilson. “I was so relieved to hear that our team was finding a way to address isolation, loneliness and in a very different way right now.”
Each year, nearly 20,000 seniors in Salt Lake County get involved in activities at one of the county’s senior centers. But the centers are shut down to keep seniors from sharing the coronavirus, and it does not look like they will be reopening anytime soon.
Aging and Adult Services staff members are finding ways to connect seniors by phone and online.
“We said, look, we need to find ways to keep providing our programming because, even though our buildings are closed, our programs are open,” said January.
Aging and Adult Services Teams make weekly wellness calls to more than 7,000 older adults. Those are friendly phone calls which double as check-ins so that Aging and Adult Services staff can support seniors who are still staying home to stay safe.
“What’s going on in your world? What do you think of the hot temperatures this week? Are you doing OK with those temperatures?” said January.
Social workers and nurses can follow up if a person has a real problem.
Staff members are also developing a new “Virtual Senior Center” to connect older adults with senior center activities, support groups, and exercise classes.
“From there, we are developing a lot of new ideas,” said January.
AAS is also buying iPads with a $30,000 coronavirus response grant to lend to clients to make sure older adults can access the online content.
Hale said it’s important for everyone to check in on the seniors in their lives. He had a neighbor deliver some zucchini bread for him today.
“They’re looking out for me, too,” said Hale. “It’s good to have that in a relationship to make sure that everyone is doing well.”
“It’s been a challenge,” said January. “But, it’s been a really great opportunity for us to remember why we do what we do. And to really stay connected with the needs of the older people in our community.”
Salt Lake County is working with health officials and watching the data to make informed decisions about the timeline for reopening centers.
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How Do I Prevent It?
The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
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