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Social isolation has been a serious concern since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. With the majority of the population in their homes most of the day, feelings of loneliness and depression are becoming increasingly common, especially among seniors.

Fewer demographics have been affected more by social isolation than seniors, who rely on visits from family and friends, or trips to their local community rec center, for social interaction.

“We know they’re a vulnerable population right now,” said John Mikos, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. “We’ve already deployed a team that has been making calls to seniors, just connecting with them — having someone call to check in with them is a good thing.”

To further address social isolation and anxiety among seniors in its community, the Kansas City Y hosted its first livestream bingo event on Thursday, April 23. The event lasted an hour and consisted of four bingo games, with gift cards and other prizes for the winners.

After registering for the event online, participants were sent their bingo card packs via email and the link to join the livestream. Once they were in the livestream and the games started, players were able to mark their cards as the numbers were called, just like an in-person bingo game.

Working from the success of this first bingo event, the Kansas City Y is exploring more ways to boost virtual engagement. “We’re going to learn from this, especially working with the tech,” said Mikos. “We’re using this as a test case to see how we can get people engaged in this type of virtual platform.”

While the general assumption is virtual programming can be a challenge for seniors to access, technology might not be as much of a stumbling block as it’s perceived.

“People assume seniors can’t access virtual programs — that’s the wrong assumption,” said Mikos. “I think people, especially seniors, are becoming much more comfortable than they were four weeks ago accessing a variety of virtual platforms. And with other family members a phone call away who do understand it, I know there are a lot more people around who can help.”

Making this virtual program accessible to the senior population has resulted in a virtual version of a popular game and a way to provide a little normalcy.

In a time of isolation and uncertainty, any programs that engage vulnerable populations like seniors are worth exploring. “We want to find more ways to get our seniors involved,” said Mikos. “We’re going to continue to do different types of programs like this for our active older adult population.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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