USC Gerontology Students Help Older Adults Navigate Technology, Fight Isolation

Students serve their local communities and empower older adults via virtual communication. 

Students from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and throughout the university have found ways to serve their local communities despite social distancing and virtual communication. In particular, empowering older adults through technology education has been a new and innovative way for students to continue meeting and working with older adults. 

“What a wonderful surprise that the USC interns returned this spring with a wide variety of creative programming that offered us the opportunity to learn, share, and interact in a way that has certainly enriched our lives and helped us adapt and learn new skills in response to this new world we all find ourselves in during these challenging times,” said Lisa Tanashi, a resident of Villa Gardens in Pasadena. 

Feeling isolated due to the pandemic, Tanashi started attending events hosted by Advocates of Healthy Aging promoting wellness and other coping strategies. Members of the Advocates of Healthy Aging group, led by seniors in Human Development and Aging Audrey Lam and Brandon Ann, started a technology hotline for the residents of Villa Gardens. Student volunteers utilize Zoom and Google Voice for hour-long shifts to meet with older adults who may have any issues with certain devices or programs they use. 

“Honestly it was the only time I’ve ever felt pure joy from answering a phone call,” said Nicole Leon, sophomore in Human Development and Aging and co-volunteer coordinator for the Advocates for Healthy Aging. “Technology is only going to continue to evolve and grow in prevalence, so it’s important that systems be put in place to ensure that everyone is able to reap the benefits.”

GeroTech SC, another organization dedicated to helping older adults with technology-related issues, led several presentations throughout the pandemic. These student-led presentations help members of the USC Emeriti Center and Half-Century Trojans with subjects such as how to navigate Twitter and Instagram and the best tips and tricks for Apple devices. 

Human Development and Aging senior Sarah Zhang has led the organization throughout the pandemic, teaching both student presenters and older participants how to navigate the Zoom space compared to when events were hosted in-person. 

“I loved the collaborative nature of the workshops, especially when some alumni and retirees chimed in to answer their peer’s questions,” Zhang said. “It was such a rewarding experience when they found the workshops helpful and hopefully they get to use what they have learned in their daily lives.”

Robert Frinier, coordinator of the Half-Century Trojans and USC alumnus, often works with and helps direct GeroTech’s future endeavors and presentations. 

“GeroTech has the ability to present today’s technology in such an easy to understand way,” Frinier said. “It has opened the doors to the 21st century for an untold number of HCT alumni who otherwise would still be in the 20th century. We are very grateful.”

Caleb Huang, a sophomore majoring in International Relations and the Global Economy, joined GeroTech during the pandemic and found his experiences to be incredibly rewarding.

“I think it’s really rewarding to be a part of GeroTech,” Huang said. “I really like the one on one aspect of helping the participants as I get to not only help with them on their tech issues but also just have a normal conversation.”

Another group, the Medical Gerontology Association, partnered with St. Vincent Meals on Wheels to help facilitate a survey and class for older adults learning about proper device use. The group is also piloting a “Science with Seniors” program.

As the university prepares the transition back to in-person activities, many organizations plan to continue their efforts in bridging older adults with newfound technology. 

“We feel very fortunate to have this connection with USC and these exceptional, special interns and human beings,” Tanashi said.