Written by Cole Tretheway
While California residents are continuing to physical distance during COVID-19,
seniors have learned to navigate unfamiliar digital communication platforms
like Zoom, Facetime and Google Hangout. Yes, the platforms can be intimidating,
but many seniors are taking the leap to adopt emerging technology to stay
connected with friends and family.
Laurie Anderson, 82, uses Zoom to keep in touch with friends during their
monthly book group meetup. “[Zoom] is great,” says Anderson
over the phone. Anderson also uses FaceTime to keep in touch with her
two sons during the pandemic, and she plans on employing the platform
even more to keep in touch with her husband while he’s away from home.
To ease the transition from face-to-face to digital communication, instructors
like Lorrie Denning, a yoga instructor at Torrance Memorial Medical Center,
are helping seniors get comfy with unfamiliar digital platforms.
“I teach three [classes] at Torrance Memorial,” Denning says.
“Lots of sedentary people, mostly women 50 and up…wanting
to keep mobile.”
When COVID-19 first hit, Denning referred her students to her free YouTube
classes. Denning has been proactively reaching out to seniors in need
of technological assistance by offering Zoom trial runs for those new
to the platform.
“A lot of seniors are fearful,” Denning says. “They’ve
never used Zoom before.” She stresses the importance of education.
“With education comes confidence. There’s a lot of misinformation
out there. It’s important [seniors] become comfortable before using
Vickie Hershberger, Coordinator of the Health and Healing Program at Torrance
Memorial, offers her perspective as a senior who learned how to use Zoom
technology from a “join the meeting” perspective early on.
Hershberger, who oversees a gamut of exercise classes from Tai Chi to Chair
Yoga, was forced to shut down classes two days into the March series,
which was slated to run through May 2020.
She worried stay-at-home sanctions posed a major problem for senior students,
who rely on the Health and Healing Program to stay connected. “Isolation
is one of the most devastating things for seniors,” Hershberger says.
“They’re isolated and they’re not exercising. One of
the biggest reasons students take our classes is for the socialization…they
are missing the bond they had with other participants.”
Denning, who runs her own class, echoes these concerns. “Movement
keeps seniors healthy. And the sangha, the community aspect, is important.
Zoom helps with this.” In an effort to serve students, Hershberger
decided to offer six free Zoom trial classes for the hospital’s
Hershberger feared their students, particularly seniors, wouldn’t
take well to the classes’ digital format. As a senior Zoom coach,
she understands how challenging it can be for the elderly to adopt emerging
However, she found organizing all the details around the needs of each
class and getting it ready for broadcast was much more challenging than
just “joining the meeting.” “I was terrified,”
says Hershberger, reliving the memory. “Twice, I almost went to
my boss and said I would retire.” And she wasn’t alone. “One
yoga instructor taught on Zoom and cried every day until she had an ‘aha’
“One night, when everybody left, I sat down with me and Zoom, and
said you’re not gonna conquer me, and I just worked through it.
I was alone, there was no pressure.”
Once she committed, she was surprised by the simplicity of the platform.
“If you are simply going to participate in a class, all you have
to do is google how to download Zoom, it’s really very simple. And
if that’s intimidating, then ask your grandkids. For kids, if they
have the patience to take just a little time and teach you, it’s
not that hard [to learn].”
Feedback for her Zoom classes was so overwhelmingly positive, Hershberger
reintroduced classes for August— this time for full price and with
a money-back guarantee.
To date, not a single student has dropped from the program. A full line-up
of Zoom exercise classes is available this Fall through Torrance Memorial.
To other folks helping seniors connect through online programs, Hershberger
recommends starting out by getting them comfortable using Zoom and other
digital platforms. “It’s the fear of it, more than the actual
problem of it, says Hershberger. One of her students told her “we’re
seniors, but that doesn’t mean we stop learning.”