Licking County Aging Program provides tablets, keeps seniors connected

Dave Weidig

| Newark Advocate

NEWARK – Linda Grove wasn’t wasting any time.

Right after receiving her Amazon Fire tablet from the Licking County Aging Program (LCAP), the Heath resident was quickly learning to Zoom and get more connected to her friends.

LCAP received a $15,000 CARES grant from the county, and is able to distribute over 100 tablets to county residents who meet income guidelines. There were 66 applications originally received, with 52 meeting guidelines for those 60-and-older in Licking County. That means over 50 are still available. The deadline to apply has been extended to March 19, and applications are available on the front porch of LCAP, located at 1058 East Main Street in Newark. There is a limit of one tablet per household.

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“Keeping me connected to whoever is important to me, and this is also an educational tool for my brain,” said Grove, who volunteers at LCAP to provide tax services for seniors. “Learning to Zoom, I’ll be able to communicate visually, and I like that idea. I haven’t known about YouTube, and that will be exciting. My desktop died last year, and I haven’t been able to replace it. Some of my friends have monthly meetings and I haven’t been able to get into it.”

“We’ve been so worried about isolation for our seniors,” said Jennifer Wallace, senior activities coordinator for LCAP. “That’s why we applied to CARES for this grant. We’ve also partnered with the library to provide Zoom lessons.”

Wallace noted that seniors can play bingo through Zoom, do wine tasting and have “talks with the doc.” This month’s discussions will deal with heart disease. “They can do doctor’s appointments through Zoom or whatever platform they use,” Wallace said. “We’re encouraging them to use Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.” The tablets also have Alexa.

Dave Martin, communications specialist for LCAP, said LCAP offers interactive videos for seniors. “Concerts, cooking classes and travel,” he said. “Just to engage with them.”

LCAP has been actively reaching out to seniors during the pandemic. “We haven’t skipped a beat,” Wallace said. “We haven’t closed our doors at all.”

Executive director Dave Bibler said the Smile Maker program has been especially effective. “Our staff calls seniors, and they take anywhere from five to 30 minutes to talk to them,” he said. “Whatever is going on in their life, and just to have someone else to talk to.”

The senior center has also offered outdoor bingo, outdoor concerts and a hiking club during the pandemic. “We take 10 people per week,” Bibler said of the hiking. “We thought it might be discontinued during the winter, but they wanted to keep doing it. It’s been extremely popular. We want to keep their minds and bodies active. We’ve had to be creative during this time.”

Bibler acknowledged that the next major crisis is depression in older adults. “Our staff knows what to look for, the signs of depression,” he said.

LCAP recognizes that the COVID-19 situation has exacerbated loneliness and isolation among senior citizens, affecting not only their mental health, but their overall health and well being.

“That’s why we have to stay connected in these times,” Grove said.

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