Aging at Home Fairbanks 

Fairbanks agency learns, improves from isolation


May 1, 2021 | View PDF

Courtesy AAH Fairbanks

Aging at Home Fairbanks members participate in a Zoom conversation with Alaska poet Peggy Shumaker in March.

Aging at Home Fairbanks, along with almost all other organizations, has learned a lot in the last year. Becoming familiar with Zoom and creating social and educational events in this flat format instead of in person has been challenging, but we've discovered the benefits also.

Aging at Home Fairbanks is a membership organization associated with the North Star Council on Aging Senior Center in Fairbanks and the nationwide Village to Village Network. The goal of the organization is to assist older adults in remaining in their homes as they age. It has a cadre of volunteers who can provide assistance to members in need as well as a list of reputable paid providers when needed. In addition, prior to the onset of Covid 19 shutdowns, AAH conducted person to person events such as lectures, workshops, field trips, and purely social events such as meals in local restaurants, gatherings at members' homes, annual meetings, and many more such events.

When "At Home" really means at home

Last year's shutdowns, though, meant Aging at Home became not just a title but reality. The loss of socialization opportunities was a huge hardship to most people and organizations, yet with flexibility we have been able to circumvent many of these hardships by participating in online Zoom meetings.

Some of the AAH virtual events created in the last year are expected to continue. We've learned that there are always pros and cons to any situation, and change is good – at least it can be. Specifically, AAH has used Zoom Steering Committee and other committee meetings, social, and education events for members. We have found that Zoom made events possible that would not have been possible prior to 2020, before we discovered that we could meet online. It opened possibilities that will hopefully be continued well past the loosening of social distancing and masking.

Many different applications have been found using Zoom. Having Happy Hour online on Friday afternoons is not the best social event we could wish for, but it does mean we can check in with friends. AAH has used Zoom for educational presentations by persons who would have been unavailable to be present in person. Good Reads, a discussion with Alaskan authors, has been able to include authors who are not in Fairbanks but can talk with us via Zoom – even those currently living out of state. It's been great to be able to talk with Heather Lende from Haines, Dana Stabenow from Homer, and Peggy Shumaker who is in Arizona this winter.

In our Aging Well series, a lawyer from the Alaska Attorney General's office spoke on avoiding frauds and scams in Alaska to all members. His schedule would not have allowed an in-person presentation, depriving the audience of this valuable information. Another speaker was a nutritionist who talked about nutritional guidelines for older adults, and a future event is planned to discuss research on influences of pets on seniors' quality of life.

Another event has featured an AAH member presenting photos he has taken over his many years in Fairbanks that he calls Life in Fairbanks, Remembering the Past. Here, local history is presented with photos and lively discussion from all participants, most of whom have also lived in Fairbanks a long time.

Adaptation and creativity

Once we got started, it was easy to be creative about how we used Zoom to keep our members connected. Besides educational events, AAH has used Zoom for social events. In the Cooks' Challenge interest group, participants choose a challenge which each member tries to create before the next meeting. Challenges have ranged from being required to use a specific list of ingredients for a dish, to creating a not-too-unhealthy appetizer or layered main dish. The group shares photos and recipes of each, with, unfortunately, no tastings.

Another participatory group is the Tai Chi class, which we hope will continue when in-person events are possible.

Very probably other participating organizations in the Village network have many creative events on Zoom which could be shared. (Recently AAH had a Zoom meeting with a Village in Seattle sharing ideas and experiences.)

And continuing to incorporate Zoom in the future means seniors who have limited transportation options, are mobility-challenged, or are out of Fairbanks can continue to participate fully in activities which would be denied them otherwise in an in-person setting. And presenters who would otherwise be totally unavailable to AAH may be available through Zoom.

Although the last year has been very challenging for our organization and others, there have been some surprising opportunities. AAH has found that online meetings of all kinds, despite the technical challenges, have given us new insights into possibilities for conducting business and connecting with all our members. That's a big plus.

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