Every Friday, Kristy and Jayn get together for a Skype video chat. The conversation drifts easily from stories about their families to reflections on their very different upbringings, and then, always, to their mutual passion: cooking. But what makes this conversation somewhat unique is that Jayn has dementia and is living in a memory care neighborhood and Kristy is a 20-something graduate student.
Kristy connected with Jayn, who lives at Summer House at Wesley Palms, through “Skype Social,” a Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing video chat project that helps connect Front Porch employees and volunteers, like Kristy, with residents to create meaningful and engaging conversations.
“I have to admit, I had some preconceived notions of how a Skype chat would go,” Kristy said. “I didn’t have a lot of experiences with seniors other than my grandparents and I wasn’t sure how much we’d have to talk about because of our age difference.” But after almost six months of chatting, Jayn and Kristy haven’t come close to running out of things to say. “I’ve learned a lot from our friendship,” Kristy said. “It’s given me a deeper insight on my life. Her wisdom and experience gives me a different perspective than my peers.”
On a recent trip to San Diego, Kristy decided it was time to finally meet her Skype pal in person. She was nervous that Jayn, because of her condition, might not remember her, but when Jayn saw Kristy she recognized her friend immediately.
“I could see the thrill in Jayn’s eyes - it was a moment I’ll never forget,” Kristy said. “From my own experience of having a family member with dementia, I understand how precious this was.”
According to Julie Santos, project coordinator for Skype Social, the key to the video chat’s success lies in fostering two-sided relationships. “The volunteers have to be open and willing to answer personal questions,” Julie said. “This builds trust with the residents.” Prior to Skype Social a majority of resident participants had never used Skype or any form of video chat software. However, Julie explains, “Having this experience with volunteers not only helps nurture connections and relationships outside of the community, but it also opens up the conversation with family members about using video chat to connect with their love ones when they’re not able to be there in person.”
Recently, Jayn started Skyping with her son who lives in San Diego and the two are planning on setting up a session with family overseas.
Ndinda Spada, life enrichment specialist at Summer House, reflects on the success of the program. “Residents love the face-to-face interaction.” She and her team are now expanding their use of Skype to include group chats which focus around a series of story-prompting questions from LifeBio (a Front Porch partnership program) to initiate discussion.
For Kristy and Jayn the benefits are on-going as their friendship continues to grow and deepen. As Kristy explains, “Making connections shouldn’t be limited by age, otherwise we miss these opportunities to establish truly meaningful friendships. “
Kristy (Chun-Chi) Huang is an intern for the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Aging Services Management at the University of Southern California, Davis School of Gerontology. Interested in becoming a volunteer at FPCIW? Contact Julie Santos, FPCIW Project Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.