Aging Mastery Continued In Spite of COVID-19
The Aging Mastery Program created by the National Council On Aging (NCOA) didn’t stop helping people learn how to create their own path for aging well even in the face of the pandemic. Instead, it readily learned how to adjust to the changing times, just like we all will need to adjust as we age.
Senior centers had to close, but that didn’t stop the Aging Mastery Program. Rather, classes were converted to virtual or phone-based classes.
“Once people get over any technology hurdles they might have, they get involved in the classes and have good conversations with one another,” said Dr. Stiles, one of the co-creators of the program.
The biggest problem for making those sessions effective was connectivity and cost — particularly in areas where connectivity issues are spotty. To complicate matters further, many older adults don’t have the hardware (devices) needed to access classes through Zoom.
According to Dr. Stiles, “The reality is that 50–60% of senior center members do not have a technology device so we are allowing them to be flexible in their delivery of the classes.”
In these cases, the program often went hybrid with Zoom classes and others calling in via telephone or some places hosted telephone conference calls when Zoom wasn’t an option.
“One thing that has been interesting and encouraging is that in spite of the fact that people are dealing with really profound changes in their lives on many different levels — especially with economic, health, and food security issues — there seems to be a real desire to connect to others in classes like this and to continue learning. That has been really heartening to see,” commented Dr. Stiles.
Participants have ranged in age from 40 to 101 with the average participants in the 65–75 age range. At any given time, the program generally has about 100 different groups running it across the country.
“The curriculum is broad and designed to meet people where they are and not make assumptions about what their needs and goals are in life. We tried to create the curriculum to speak to the broadest number of people so that individuals can truly build their own, personal playbook for aging well,” said Dr. Stiles.
The Future of the Aging Mastery Program and its Participants
In the future, Dr. Stiles anticipates that the program will go online (in addition to continuing in-person when possible) and have a virtual aspect. As health plans start to see online access as not just something nice for participants to have, but a need for things like telehealth services, programs like the Aging Mastery Program and online access could be incorporated in health and well-being plans.
People’s lives are more than just medical appointments. Social isolation and other factors can have a drastic impact on someone’s life and overall health. So preventing some of those health issues in the future may include reimbursement for some well-being programs around physical and mental health as well as educational programs to assure successful implementation.
The Aging Mastery Program participants don’t stop after 10 weeks. After the program, participants incorporate the skills learned into their daily lives. Often, they go on to meet with their cohort groups quarterly or create walking groups, take additional elective courses, or find other communities focused on health, socialization, and well-being. Some participants volunteer to host the next Aging Mastery Program or go on to volunteer with other organizations like Senior Corps. Many find further purpose through pursuing educational or economic opportunities with local organizations, or digital communities like GetSetUp.
The key to the Aging Mastery Program is understanding how to stay connected with the world and find a community within it in order to create meaningful and purposeful connections that keep a person engaged in activities that are positive and rewarding.