Engaging with Seniors

June 1, 2020
Author: Jo Ann Graser, NCPT, PMA Board of Directors President

We are now in a situation where the desire to connect with others has never felt more essential to our well-being. Regardless of age, the lack of human contact outside of one’s immediate circle can exact a toll on our emotional and physical selves. In some cases, this can be even more acute for the senior population, where social isolation is sometimes a critical issue even under “normal” circumstances.

The Demographics
According to the United Nations, there were 703 million people aged 65 years or over in the world in 2019. The number of older persons is projected to double to 1.5 billion in 2050. Globally, the share of the population aged 65 years or over increased from 6 per cent in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2019.

This is a demographic that needs our services today more than ever. So how do we connect virtually with a part of the population that may struggle with, or even be fearful of, technology? We need to approach this endeavor with increased compassion, understanding and patience - above what is required for in-person sessions.

A True Story
“Betty” is 75 and has been my studio’s client for over 20 years. She is a world traveler and is always exploring, experiencing, and adventuring. She has sought out vigorous physical challenges consistently since I have known her. Betty is a confessed movement addict and counts Pilates as her saving grace for continuing her pursuits, rehabbing from a myriad of injuries, and maintaining her mental health. She regularly attends Pilates sessions 5 times a week.

March 21st was the beginning of our “shelter in place” order and an immediate source of stress for Betty. For the week leading up to the closing of our studio, she insisted she was going to have to discontinue her Pilates practice, and her anxiety about what the effects would be on her body and mind were palpable. No amount of cajoling and hand holding was going to get her to even consider virtual sessions.

Fast forward to today, and Betty is attending 5 virtual sessions a week – both group classes and private sessions. She logs into a session and even troubleshoots when needed. Her home Wi-Fi is spotty with the video and audio, sometimes freezing, but she takes it all in stride.

Here is what we did to nudge Betty in the right direction and get her to feel comfortable with working virtually:

1. While still in the studio, we kept introducing the idea of virtual sessions, focusing on the connection piece, emphasizing that she could maintain her relationship with her teachers and the studio community. There was never any negative talk about what she would “miss out on” by not participating.

2. We had her practice with the technology in the studio prior to closing. Loading Zoom on her iPad and phone and doing meet ups while we were there to troubleshoot really helped her to feel more comfortable.

3. We spent extra time with her that first week of the virtual sessions, sending the links to her early and speaking to her by phone to talk her through the process.

Following a virtual session two weeks into our studio closure, she said this to me:
“I am so grateful for all you and your staff have done to keep me and everyone else motivated and moving since the quarantine. This is the only thing I have scheduled every day and it is keeping me sane.”

While Betty is certainly no technology wiz, she has found a comfort level that has enabled her to keep doing what she loves. I could never have imagined that on that day back in March she would become one of our most loyal virtual clients. I had started a session with Betty this past Sunday when Zoom had their first official system-wide “crash.” We had to terminate our session and she accepted it, pointing out that she had a session scheduled for the next day and was confident that everything would be fixed.

Betty’s story is an example of the importance of maintaining contact with the senior population. This at-risk population may be unable to attend sessions in-person even when studios can re-open. Virtual sessions can be a lifeline for this segment of our population.

The Bottom Line
Not every attempt to bring a senior citizen into the virtual world will meet with success. I have senior clients who just cannot make that leap with us. Desperate times call for creative measures. I dropped off a Wunda Chair with one such couple who adamantly refused the virtual offerings, but who desperately needed to keep moving. I keep them connected with regular phone calls, emails, and texts. I offer gentle prods to keep them moving, but more importantly, I provide an emotional connection while the physical one has been severed.

As movement professionals we are adept at working with people of all ages. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to do our utmost to support the senior population. Focus on the connection piece and the movement piece will follow.

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Category: Business