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Keeping the Zoom in Life: Pandemic-Prompted Tech Has Sparked Senior Surge

Remote participation by video has made permanent changes at the Pasadena Senior Center

Published on Thursday, March 9, 2023 | 5:20 am

When the pandemic first closed doors back in 2020, there were challenges of all types to a host of different residents in Pasadena, from homebound students to stay-at-home moms to retired seniors.

For Akila Gibbs, executive director of the Pasadena Senior Center, a new technology — something called Zoom — became a lifeline for her senior clients to stay in contact with families and friends.

“There were so many people trapped at home,” Gibbs recalled, “and, surprisingly, Zoom saved us.”

Gibbs and her Pasadena Senior Center staff feared the online technology would be an unsurmountable barrier for her clientele, older people used to visiting the center several times a week to have a cup of coffee and visit with friends.  

“We thought they would not like it. They loved it!” she said laughed in a recent interview with Pasadena Now.

Gibbs also noticed that attendance for the Center’s wide variety of lectures and talks suddenly skyrocketed.

“Our attendance was very high,” said Gibbs. “In fact, in many cases, attendance tripled.” 

Attendance for the  “Let’s Talk” medical health lecture series suddenly increased dramatically as seniors reached out for information and social contact. Online discussions also made it easier for the Center to increase its pool of lecturers and medical professionals, Gibbs noted.

“Zoom really opened up the variety of medical professionals that we could get,” she added.

“They could address all these people from their offices, and didn’t have to drive into the center,” said Gibbs. “Presentations that were drawing audiences of 15 or 20, now were sometimes drawing 70 people!”

Gibbs noted that new attendees appeared for the online classes from as far away as England and Italy. 

Ironically, the online classes also paid off socially, as visitors to the Senior Center met and made new friends with people who were frequent attendees of the center, but at different times. 

“They all met and made new friends online,” Gibbs. 

With the ending of the pandemic, many of the online classes once again began meeting in person or became hybrid classes, but not the “Let’s Talk” series. It stayed online. 

“People can still access the class while they’re traveling or visiting family anywhere in the world,” said Gibbs.

Along with the online classes which suddenly opened the world up to shut-in seniors, regular membership increased during the pandemic and has naturally remained high as the world has returned to face-to-face meetings. 

Now Gibbs sees “two populations” involved with the center, as the pandemic wanes. 

“We have a number of situations where attendance is really strong, like with our art classes and our clubs,” said Gibbs. “They like to come in on a daily basis and have coffee with their friends. The Senior Center is their home away from home and that population is still very strong.”

Conversely, said Gibbs, “there is another population who prefer classes online, and there are those who like both. They like their online classes and they like coming in. All are popular.”

Whether coffee in person with an actual newspaper and a friend, or stretching on the living room with an online coach, the Pasadena Senior Center is helping to redefine day-to-day communication for seniors from Pasadena to London to Rome.

Pasadena Senior Center is at 85 East Holly Street, Pasadena.  (626) 795-4331.

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