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Strong New Connections

Seniors are now using telemedicine and social media tech to keep their lives healthy and fun

HelloFresh. FaceTime. Lyft. Zoom.

At one time these words and others like it may have been nonsense to a population above a certain age. But that time is truly in the past. For the COVID-19 pandemic, senior citizens who once felt no desire to use the latest technology were all but forced to embrace it—not just for goods and services but also to interact with friends and family.

And after slogging through the learning process of all of this new tech, many of them realized something—they love it.

“Technology is not just a timesaver, it helps you cross miles,” says Mary Ann Traver, a retiree who lives in Richmond Hill.

Traver often comes to Savannah for her role as current President of St. Joseph’s/Candler’s SmartSenior program. She also comes to see her primary care physician, Dr. Lorraine McRae, at St. Joseph's/Candler Primary Care located on Eisenhower.

But like everyone else, she couldn’t do either of those things in person at the height of the pandemic. She also couldn’t play canasta with her friends or attend church services. When those activities were offered virtually, Traver set up a desktop computer and a tablet, determined not to stay isolated or inactive.

“I had to depend on my daughter in Bainbridge, Georgia, to help me with the learning curve,” she says.

Win-Win

Dr. McRae saw that many of her older patients were able to succeed with things like virtual visits, health tracking or the patient portal if they had a tech-savvy person among their family or friends to assist.

“Bringing in the video component can get a little tricky for some patients,” she says. “But when it works, it does make a difference. If I hadn’t seen them in a while or if they needed to show me an injury or the amount of swelling they have in their legs, for example, the virtual visit is helpful.”

Some of Dr. McRae’s patients did not want to risk seeing people in person, even with masking and social distancing, until they were fully vaccinated.

“They didn’t want to come into our office, but at least I got to see them through video,” she says. “And they were in the comfort of their own home. It’s a win-win.”

Dr. McRae noticed that some of her patients had learned Zoom teleconferencing technology after being encouraged to by their faith community.

“Faith services were so much a part of their life and would have been a huge loss,” she says. “When those services transitioned to Zoom, loved ones thankfully bought their family members tablets and taught them the social media technology so that they could participate.”

Not everyone will have technology access, of course. Dr. McRae assures those patients that they will still receive the same high-quality care even if the approach is different.

“We can always fall back onto using the phone if necessary,” she says. “I’ve known so many of my patients for so many years. Through those established relationships, I’m trained to listen not to just what my patients are saying but also what their voice is telling me about how they truly feel.”

Virtual Freedom

Traver attends church through YouTube, hosts a monthly meeting between old friends through Zoom, uses FaceTime to attend ball games and birthday parties and uses a special app to play canasta with her grandson.

SmartSenior was also able to bring back its most popular activities through services like Zoom, including bingo and trivia games. Traver also attended a few Lunch N’ Learns, a SmartSenior program in which local physicians and healthcare experts present a talk to a large group over lunch. Through the virtual hosting of these programs, Traver was able to interact with other SmartSenior members that she had not seen or spoken to in weeks.

“Of course, we would prefer to do these activities in person, but people need to remember that this technology was not meant to take the place of that,” Traver says. “But wouldn’t you rather play games online if you are stuck at home?”

With her doctor and many of her friends in Savannah and her daughter in Bainbridge, Traver enjoys the freedom of choice that virtual technology has given her. She found herself enjoying the comfort of her Richmond Hill home even after the lockdowns and other restriction eased up in the summer.

“Even with COVID-19 now having a vaccine, I’d love to continue the online bingo and trivia,” she says. “I won’t always want to drive an hour to do it in person.”

Though a few of her friends are still not convinced, Traver will continue to encourage others to move past their fear or mistrust of technology and to reach out for help.

“If you’ve got WiFi and a device, you can do this,” she says. “Find somebody that does it already and let them help you. Many of these things only involved a few steps. It’s not hard once you understand.”

 


 

Are you over 55 and looking for fun activities, camaraderie, and access to health screenings and more? SmartSenior has it, and as Mary Ann Traver says, much of it can be enjoyed online.

SmartSenior is the most comprehensive senior membership program in Southeast Georgia and the South Carolina Low Country for persons ages 55 years and older. With over 4,000 members, SmartSenior offers something for everyone. For more information or to apply for membership, call 912-352-4405.

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