CBS News – Margaret Eiosikoff had her first Zoom call at age 89, and is part of a growing number of senior citizens using technology to overcome the longstanding problem of loneliness that plagues many of America’s elders.
“My children have said, ‘Mom, we’re pulling you into the next century’, and I said, ‘I’m just getting used to the last one, but okay, I will come along,'” she told CBS News’ Barry Petersen. “So I am learning, and I had a great deal of help from Gen Tech.”
Generation Tech — or “Gen Tech” — is a volunteer group of high school students helping senior citizens combat social isolation, even as the problem was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s quite cool to know that this generation, at least, is being taken care of, and that we can do something in this time for other people,” co-founder Zachary Wang said.
Even before the pandemic began, they have been working to keep older Americans connected to the outside world using the latest technology.
Colorado students from Cherry Creek High School would visit residents at the Holly Creek Retirement Community every Saturday, to help them learn and get used to rapidly-changing modern gadgets.
The volunteering is likely benefiting both sides. Surveys show Gen Z, ages 18 to 22, are considered the loneliest Americans. This is in part due to a lack of in-person interactions.
“I think that social media gives us this cocoon, this shell,” Wang said. “And I think that working with the older adults in Generation Tech to get into that zone where you’re not just focused on yourselves … in that process, you’re creating those relationships, you’re creating those bonds that might be surprising you.”
Wang said the program gives both students and seniors “a whole new perspective” on human connection and people’s connections to society.
While the aim of an in-person connection cannot be achieved now as coronavirus cases surge in areas across the U.S., they run webinars and create resources for seniors, like a YouTube video on how to navigate technology and social media.
Rachel Cohen, director of Linkages, a group promoting activities between young and old Americans to combat social isolation, said it was important to have those sorts of connections to fight off loneliness.
“Research is showing that the impacts of loneliness — you can equate it to smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” she said.
Ed Van Bramer, a retired doctor, said he also sees good health coming from these good deeds.
“I think it all is related around stress,” he said. “The amount of stress that we have living today is one of the causes of the rates of heart disease, strokes and so forth, high blood pressure and all of those things that go along with the pressure and the stress that everybody faces. The more you do to broaden your knowledge, the more you do to be interactive, the more you do to use your senses, the better things work.”
For Margaret Eiosikoff, it is also bringing a change of pace. Rather than listening to her church service by phone, she will use her new knowledge of how to navigate Zoom to attend by video.
“And I’m sure they will all say, you now have to get dressed to come to church on Sunday,” she said. “You can’t come in your pajamas anymore.”