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iPads help seniors stay connected to loved ones during the pandemic

Crow Wing Energized was awarded a grant through the Central Minnesota Council on Aging to buy iPads and collaborated with area nursing homes and assisted living facilities to promote the use of virtual connection and learning opportunities because loneliness and isolation are real health concerns.

Northern Lakes Senior Living residents in Baxter can use an iPad atop a tripod purchased by Crow Wing Energized with a Central Minnesota Council on Aging grant to stay in touch with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic. Submitted photo

The Apple iPad is a flat, rectangular and glossy handheld tablet computer. But for many seniors in area nursing homes and assisted living facilities, it’s a window to the world.

For those residents who have gone without seeing loved ones in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, the device also allows them to remain connected to those they love.

“We love and care for them,” said Angelique Hayes, outreach and sales director at Northern Lakes Senior Living in Baxter. “But we don’t replace friends and family, and that’s where the iPad has really been helping and certainly with their families that live far away.”

Crow Wing Energized purchased 20 iPads with a $10,000 grant from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging to give to almost every assisted living facility in Brainerd, Baxter, Crosby, Crosslake, Nisswa and Pequot Lakes, and nursing homes that did not already have an iPad.

“Families can’t get into those facilities to see someone in person, so this has really opened up better communication — and it’s always nice to see your loved ones,” said Karen Johnson, Crow Wing Energized program manager.


Here is a list of Crow Wing County nursing homes and assisted living facilities that received an iPad purchased by Crow Wing Energized with a $10,000 grant from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging.

Crow Wing Energized

Crow Wing Energized is led and funded by Crow Wing County, Essentia Health and the Statewide Health Improvement Program. Crow Wing Energized’s goal groups include healthy choices, mental fitness, workplace wellness and community connections.

“We applied for that earlier this summer, and that grant itself was really meant to work on dealing with social isolation, especially targeting the elderly population,” Johnson said of the iPads that allow real-time, video-based calls with a built-in camera.

Social isolation has been associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, and poor social relationships have been associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease, according to the nonprofit National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation.

The iPad is a line of handheld tablet computers that use a touchscreen to type, make selections, view images and more. Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash.com

Northern Lakes Senior Living

Northern Lakes Senior Living facilities in Baxter consists of 68 apartments — 42 of which are assisted living apartments and 26 of which are memory care apartments. Located on Excelsior Road near Westgate Mall, Northern Lakes is a 55 and over senior living community.


“Before COVID, friends and family were welcome most any time to Northern Lakes assisted living and memory care,” Hayes said of visitors who often participated in Northern Lakes’ activities and meals before the pandemic.

Hayes said the Minnesota Department of Health — and the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in Crow Wing County — play a role in whether Northern Lakes can or cannot have visitors and how it schedules those visitors that are allowed.

“Everything has to be scheduled now, and there are timeframes and guidelines for how visits happen and how many visits can happen,” Hayes said of restricted visits by an essential caregiver, typically a designated primary family member.

Johnson said, “It has really been difficult on people living in assisted living facilities and nursing homes during this time due to restrictions with visiting which is necessary to keep everyone safe.”

The shared iPad at Northern Lakes Senior Living in Baxter allows residents to see and hear their family and friends from the safety of their own rooms. Submitted photo


The iPads’ bigger screens make it easier for seniors to see friends and family members at the same time on the same screen during a video call rather than depending on a smartphone.

“He was on the iPad, and he was able to visit face-to-face in a video call with her in private because it’s right in his apartment where he’s comfortable,” Hayes said of a resident. “And then when he was done, he just called me at the front desk, and I went back to pick it up. And it was wonderful.”


With winter and new lockdown measures in many states, nearly 28% of people report increased feelings of loneliness, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation.

“Most of our classes for Crow Wing Energized were in person, so with COVID we don’t have any in-person classes now … so that is something we can choose to continue to think about and work with different organizations to see how we can meet those needs,” Johnson said.

Juniper is another organization helping communities across Minnesota create a culture of health, where prevention and wellness are the norm, according to its website. Juniper programs provide education, fitness instruction, and self-care strategies for participants.

“Juniper developed a class to assist seniors who are not able to participate in classes virtually. Instead of using a computer, people can call in for this class … so they have taken some classes and modified them so that you can call in,” Johnson said of the technically-challenged.

Designed, developed and marketed by Apple Inc., the iPad tablet computer is the most popular tablet computer sold. Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash.com

Good mental health

Before the coronavirus pandemic, about 20% of adults in the United States said they often or always felt lonely or socially isolated, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation.

“Our intent was that they would have a device that they could use, and their residents could use, to primarily communicate with their loved ones, being able to make those video calls as well as being able to explore things that they may not have access to,” Johnson said.


Podcasts, free museum tours and educational opportunities, for example, can be accessed with the iPads, which use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet, and offer the residents an opportunity to virtually explore other environments from the comfort of their residences.

“We also purchased for Northern Lakes a tripod so that they could mount that iPad for people experiencing memory issues. Angelique said they kept wanting to hit the device and they would hit it off, so this allows them to kind of be able to look at it and be hands-free,” Johnson said.

Hayes said, “The tripod is a really important piece of the gift because, for instance, I had a resident that is not very mobile right now. And so he was in his apartment — and his family is obviously missing him tremendously — and so I set up a video call with his daughter.”

Crow Wing Energized also used the Central Minnesota Council on Aging grant to purchase ultrasonic cleaners to sanitize the iPads between shared usage in the nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“The more I learn about Crow Wing Energized and the team, the more I am inspired and grateful to have them in our community!” Hayes said.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .


I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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