The value of staying connected

It is commonly accepted among health-care professionals that social isolation can have a negative impact on seniors, impairing mental performance, compromising the immune system and increasing the risk of disease.

In fact, according to a report by the AARP Foundation, prolonged social isolation can equal the health risks of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Internet systems help seniors stay connected and St. Anthony Park resident Peter Austin reports that one such tool, grandPad, is doing just that at an assisted-care facility in St. Paul, the Highlands at River Road.

Austin is an executive with the developers of the new property, built on the site of the former St. Mary’s Home at 1925 Norfolk Ave.

The grandPad is a simplified computer tablet that residents are given when they move in, Austin explains. Users can make phone and video calls, send voice emails, check the weather, play games and view family photos.

Heather Kerl, campus director at Highlands, said the tablets are a big hit.

“Residents say things like, ‘Oh, I’m so excited to see pictures of my grandkids’ and ‘I have family out of state that I’m looking forward to video chatting with’ and ‘I love hearing my favorite music on the grandPad,” she said.

Digital connectivity is not the only solution for combating loneliness, of course, and it’s not a substitute for real-life interaction with other people. But tools like the grandPad may provide a useful form of social engagement for seniors who don’t have enough.

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