COVID-19 and its effects on events at senior centers has created questions for the future of senior center activity calendars.
Should senior centers wait until they can do all activities in person? Should they move their entire activity calendar online? Or should they try to do a mix of in person and virtual events for their senior center members? What will senior center activity calendars look like in 2021?
There is no doubt that seniors and older adults still need engagement despite COVID-19 restrictions. As we age, the chance for community building and socialization decreases, so its senior centers that are providing those opportunities for older adults. Therefore, senior centers must be able to offer activities despite social distancing and health restrictions.
At Televeda, we’ve experienced this ourselves. We began as a hybrid service, providing in-person classes to senior centers in addition to our live streaming platform. But with COVID-19 shutdowns, we quickly pivoted to all virtual, ensuring the senior centers and communities we’ve partnered with could continue their 2020 and 2021 activity calendars with limited interruption.
To date, our platform has hosted over 100K live interactions and 2,000 live classes led by over 100 activity vendors. Suffice to say: we’ve hosted a lot of virtual, in person, and hybrid events so we know first hand all the factors that go into determining your senior center activity calendars in 2021!
Over 1 million older adults use senior center services across America, with nearly 11,000 senior centers offering events throughout the country. And as the Boomer population continues to age, the impact these senior centers have on their communities will increase in significance.
Studies have shown that older adults and the elderly who participate in senior center activities have more social interaction and higher levels of life satisfaction and well being than their peers.
Though sometimes social health isn’t as discussed as mental or physical health, reducing loneliness and social isolation through engagement can see increased longevity, lowered healthcare costs, and reduced staff burden at senior centers.
There is also evidence that older adults who participate in senior center programming can:
And a large part of the reason for these improvements are increased levels of engagement due to the social interaction and community building at these senior centers.
Despite the need for socialization and engagement, senior center activities have been seriously impacted by COVID-19-related health policies.
The AARP shared that senior centers should:
But with the continuation of social distancing requirements and the shutdowns of senior centers, the percentage of older adults spending most of their time alone--and feeling the effects of loneliness--has risen dramatically, leading to an increased chance of social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Though social isolation can impact any member of the population, older adults and the elderly are significantly at higher risk.
The most efficient answer to these issues is using online activity and live streaming resources. Providing virtual socialization allows seniors to stay healthy without the risk in-person socialization can bring.
That’s why when creating senior center activity calendars for 2021, the focus should be on increasing engagement and socialization with every activity, whether through in person, virtual, or hybrid activity calendars.
If your senior center is set up with the infrastructure to exclusively host in person activities, it may be challenging to plan your activities calendar in 2021. Of course, once the vaccine is available to a wider spread audience, you’ll have more flexibility in your programming.
By following CDC guidelines and getting creative, it’s possible to have social, in-person events as long as people are at a safe distance.
The AARP suggests that senior centers use the following guidelines when putting on in-person activities in 2021:
Note: any close contact sports and activities are not recommended i.e. basketball, chess etc.
For some fun in-person activities at senior centers in 2021 that are still safe, check out the list below. All encourage engagement and socialization, despite the social distance.
1. Make Fun Mocktails: Though beer and wine carts are fun and easy, why not up the fun—and beat hydration in the meantime—with some fancy mocktails your senior community residents will love?!
Be sure to make them following safety guidelines, and pass them out wearing masks and gloves. Seniors can enjoy together in the doorways of their rooms, or socially distanced in a room. For five easy recipes, head to this link!
2. Chair Workouts, Six Feet Apart: If you’re keeping your activity rooms open, get your seniors active by focusing workouts around chairs keeping each participant at least six feet apart.
At Televeda, we host (online) chair yoga, Tai Chi, and Zen Flow classes to allow our older members to work on their physical health. For some safe exercises your members can try, check out this list here.
3. Hallway or Socially Distant Games: Bingo, trivia, sing-a longs, and more! Most activities that you can do in person you can do in a hallway or socially distant in an activity room!
As we’ve mentioned, emphasizing one’s social wellness is just as important as physical and mental health because every aspect of one’s health is interconnected. Better social health has benefits from a stronger immune system, to lower stress and a longer life.
Bingo, trivia, and karaoke or sing-a-longs are classic activities that are easy for everyone to participate in and enjoy.
Hallways games are just really a great way to keep your senior center members socializing, especially if you have long-term residents. If you’re looking for some easy ways you can support senior citizens’ social wellness on your own, try these five fun social wellness games for the elderly.
With covid and social distancing, in person activities are possible, but they definitely present some challenges. That’s why transitioning to a virtual activity calendar is a great option for 2021.
The prevalence of virtual classes has been on the rise even before today’s social distancing policies and shut downs. From telemedicine to telefitness, several wellness-focused practices have been moved to the online realm.
With the continued interest from technology developers and company stakeholders, virtual classrooms are poised to become standard for content delivery in many industries.
The shift to virtual programming at senior and community centers across the country has spread out of necessity, but it’s not new, and as the National Center of Aging puts it: “it’s not going away any time soon.”
The concept of “virtual senior centers” has been around for a while, with centers across the country noting they’ve previously attempted to make their community accessible beyond in-person events, but COVID-19 forced a wider and faster adoption of activity calendars based around virtual events.
Senior centers with an online infrastructure were able to use virtual programming to continue activity operations and provide essential social engagement and community for their members. Though individuals “report missing seeing their friends in person, they also report enjoying the convenience of taking part in classes from a distance.”
Virtual and online technology is the most effective way to reach your community and provide the engagement your senior center members need for their mental, social, and physical health, despite social distancing.
But, the benefits of virtual classes extend beyond being safer from infection.
Virtual classes allow those with different mobility issues or cognitive levels to still participate and enjoy friendships without having to figure out logistics that could otherwise prevent them from attending.
Because virtual classes can be accessed almost anywhere, this allows senior centers to expand their offerings for their members.
This also makes it more cost effective and time efficient for members, staff, and management.
You can also have classes running at the same time and offer a wider variety of classes for different interests...all while spending less time coordinating the event planning process.
This is especially true if you partner with an organization that does most of this work for you.
At Televeda, we and our partners are able to offer a wide range of content from book clubs to cooking classes to happy hours, to yoga and strength and cardio classes, to educational programs and more.
When considering virtual events for your 2021 activity calendar, there are several different types of online programming, and not all are created equal!
Television is a recognizable medium, and one that senior center members probably already have experience with. It’s also convenient, since it only requires a TV and a broadcasting service (which most centers already have) and the viewing options are on demand.
This option works best when there are few other electronic devices in the community, and your provider offers several options.
However, it’s important to note that though TV and video libraries can provide entertainment to many seniors at once, having pre-selected material allows for little personalization.
There is also very little interaction involved; passive consumption of television may keep residents occupied, but offers little in social, mental, and physical benefits.
A way to remedy this is by setting up “movie clubs” with a series of before and after discussion questions offered at the viewing.
Pre-recorded activities could include master classes, YouTube videos, Facebook videos, and others. These can be a great option for educational courses or other events that don't necessarily require interaction with an instructor.
Continuing education classes are a great option for seniors looking to keep their mind sharp and stay engaged. There are tons of websites that offer affordable options.
You can find online courses for your seniors to attend and then meet online to discuss the content together, just like a study group. You can also sign up for a Master Class series that you can broadcast throughout your senior center, and members can work on the activities together.
That means that even if it’s not an interactive learning session, getting your members to collaborate “after class” will encourage them to work together and even socialize outside of class, whether in person, via email, or over social media (like we do at Televeda).
The more engagement and community-building you can get with an activity, the better!
Though little can replace face-to-face interaction, group live streaming activities allow for safe socialization and help mitigate feelings of loneliness. Live streaming is sensory, interactive, and accessible. Even those with physical or mental limitations can enjoy using the technology from wherever they are.
There are two types of live streaming that you can use at your senior center:
One-way broadcasting is a common form of live streaming. This live streaming is perfect for activities that don’t require instructor or viewer interaction, but come in a series (like university lectures) or can use some motivation (like workout classes)! Watching virtual concerts is also a popular one.
As one of our members said about our live streamed symphony orchestra concerts: "What a joy and privilege to hear such lovely music and be able to feel that we are actually in the concert hall, though sequestered in our homes! Thank you to the musicians and all who made this possible."
Facebook and YouTube are large, recognized, stable technology companies that offer a variety of one-way live streamed videos. And if you’re uploading your own content, you can provide whatever sort of programming you want to show your residents.
Fortunately, many seniors are already on Facebook and know how to use the interface, and YouTube has a simple search bar at the top of their pages for its users. Plus, both of these services are free, unless you’re subscribing to Youtube Premium.
However, it’s important to note that though the size and capability of Youtube and Facebook are a great advantage, the reach of these platforms also leaves them vulnerable to higher security risks.
Like other virtual events, live streaming offers a wide array of activities including museum tours, aquarium and zoo tours, and more. Find one-way live streaming of nature and animals is also a fun one, such as this live stream bird cam!
P.S. Here’s a handy way to live stream all of your events and activities throughout your senior center.
Last but not least, a favorite virtual activity of Televeda’s is two way interactive live streaming.
This is one of the best virtual activity methods that you can choose to include on your senior center 2021 activity calendar.
This is because no matter where they are, seniors can interact with one another, form friendships and relationships, and attend various events. Two way live streaming allows for interaction, socialization, and community building more than any other virtual activity.
Here are some quick and easy two-way live streaming activity ideas to include in your 2021 senior center calendar:
For a full list of online group activities for more engagement and socialization, head here!
Having virtual activity options gives your senior center flexibility with shutdowns and social distancing policies. However, completely replacing in person interaction is challenging, and not something we’d recommend.
But, we can’t just wait for in-person activities to come back. Though the vaccine is being rolled out and many seniors are first to receive the vaccine, it will still take several months before everyone who would participate at your senior center is vaccinated including workers and staff.
That’s why the best version of your senior center 2021 activity calendar should offer hybrid activities.
The definition for hybrid events that we’ll be using is this second one, where your in person events will offer a virtual component so members have the option of engaging online and in person. Y Engagement is the essential ingredient for a successful hybrid activity calendar.
For any event or activity, there will always be attendees who want to attend, but can’t for one reason or another.
When hosting virtual events, there is a potential for increased reach. Your senior centers will no longer have geographical bounds as well as be able to better reach underserved areas.
Plus, a study found that nearly 98% of attendees at a hybrid event were not planning to attend the live event, meaning your event can reach members that may not have attended an activity in the first place! A successful hybrid event can also encourage more in-person attendance at future events.
With a hybrid event, you can effectively lower the barrier of entry that may be present due to demographics, life circumstances, and for those “on the fence” of attending center events.
Despite the vaccine roll out, there is still uncertainty about when in-person events will go back to “normal,” as well as any COVID-like experiences that could happen in the future.
If you have virtual infrastructure set up, you won’t have to scramble to continue your services to your audience.
This also provides more flexibility with adjusting your events in general, whether it be dates and times, weather-changes (no more rain dates!), or even the interests and needs of your members. For example, members that become newly homebound won’t miss out seeing their friends and being able to socialize despite that change in their life.
You can also reach members that are snowbirds, live with different families for different parts of the year, or ones that moved away for various reasons.
If you ever offer special paid events at your senior center, having a virtual component can allow for greater ticket sales for the increased reach we discussed above. Even if you charge less for the virtual side of the event, you’ll still be receiving sales from people that may not have made a purchase at all.
Plus, with your wider audience you may notice more sponsorship offers and hosts that are excited to get in front of more people.
Since the beginning of COVID-19 shutdowns, studies have shown reduced travel and social events have led to clearer skies and reduced energy consumption.
“Going hybrid” is a great way to reduce your senior center’s carbon footprint, as well as help your members reduce theirs.
With a hybrid event, you’ll most likely have less overhead costs, with fewer members to manage in person and therefore smaller event spaces, less amenities needed, and less travel required for hosts or event teachers.
These lowered expenses, combined with a greater reach, and potential ticket sales or sponsorships means a better ROI overall.
Well, how about all three?
We suggest you plan your senior center activity calendars for 2021 to be primarily hybrid events. This gives you greater flexibility and allows you to continue your services for your members.
However, if you have certain events that can only be done in person, or only be done virtually, that’s fine too! It may be easier to host a crafting event in person, while a live streamed university lecture could be easiest right to your senior center members’ residences.
As you’re trying out these different events and event calendars, you’re going to have to be okay with doing a few experiments to see what works best for your senior center, your staff, and your members.
And no matter what type of activities you are doing, you’re going to want to track and analyze the results of your activity calendars so you can optimize them for engagement and retention.
Data tracking is key for increasing engagement at your senior center or community. If you don’t know whether or not your programming, or schedules, or platform, is creating changes in engagement and mood, it’s going to be tough to improve.
Here are some activity metrics you could (and should!) measure:
Please note that all of these activity metrics should be measured for both the in person and virtual activities you are hosting, and they can be different! For example, if you’re determining the best dates and times, your virtual events may do better in the mornings or evenings, and an in-person event may perform better in the afternoon or mid-morning.
Additionally, it’s important to ask your members for feedback beyond the numbers. What are their favorite classes? What don’t they love? What do they want to see?
Continuously tracking your metrics and making improvements is necessary for success. And remember, you might have to experiment a bit. The point is making the changes, and seeing if they work. If they don’t, then just keep working at!
At Televeda, we understand that every community is unique, which is why we create data reports tracking wellness and engagement to ensure a positive ROI, and that the vision you have for your center is successful and can best serve your residents.
The need for senior centers is only going to increase, so being able to offer the best activity calendars and stand out to potential new members looking for a community is going to become increasingly important.
This is not only beneficial for the health and happiness of your senior center members, but for the operational side of your senior center as a whole.
However, we understand that making the transition can seem daunting at times, which is why you can always try using different engagement softwares and platforms to help you out during your journey.
If you have any questions on where to get started, send us a note here, and we’re happy to help out!
The most efficient way for senior centers and communities to increase engagement during COVID-19 is with online group activities and programs. Providing virtual socialization allows seniors to stay healthy without the risk in-person socialization can bring. Check out these 9 fun online group activities for your senior center residents.