Virtual center sharpens elderly minds, staves off lonelines

The program enables elderly individuals to connect with day care centers via Skype.

Virtual day care_390 (photo credit: Ofir Ben Natan)
Virtual day care_390
(photo credit: Ofir Ben Natan)
Aimed at keeping the mind sharp and staving off loneliness, a new program enables elderly homebound individuals to interact and participate in activities taking place in a local day care center – virtually.
Launched two months ago, the Virtual Day Care Center holds programs on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Mandelbaum Day Care Center in Ramat Gan.
The program, which is still in its pilot phase, enables seven elderly individuals to join in the twice-weekly program via Online medium Skype, a software application that facilitates video chats.
“Skype is very simple to use, they just have to know what button to press when someone calls them,” Adina Shatz, director of the Mandelbaum Center, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
While only participants with computers, cameras and a basic understanding of technology were selected for the first phase of the program, Shatz says that there is already a waiting list and plans to provide equipment to those who do not have access to it.
“These people might be confined to their homes but they are still intellectually capable and this program aims to boost their connection with other people,” she explained, pointing out that even those with families grow lonely because they are not physically able to leave their homes and interact with the world around them.
“Loneliness can be very powerful and the goal is to provide these people with the virtual contact to the world outside and also to give them some of the services that are available for the elderly in our society,” she said, adding that the program brings together “real” people who actually visit the day care center and the seven at-home participants for lively discussions on a wide range of topics and entertainment.
Shatz also said that outside of the two weekly meetings, the participants have started to interact with each other via Skype, and that they have formed strong bonds with each other.
The idea for the Virtual Day Care Center, which is funded jointly by JDC-Eshel and the Gertner Institute in Tel Hashomer for $92,000, was imported from a similar program operated by Selfhelp Community Services in the US.
An exchange program between the UJA Federation of New York and JDC-Eshel in Israel helped set the idea in motion here. The Mandelbaum Center, which provides wide-ranging care and therapeutic programs for the elderly, was selected as the location for the pilot.
Shatz said that in the coming weeks, virtual day care participants in Israel would hold a joint program online with virtual day care participants enrolled in its counterpart program in New York.
“We have yet to set the date but it will be soon,” she said.