Evaluating the Selfhelp Virtual Senior Center

Center Post

A new CAST case study explores how CAST Patron Selfhelp Community Services established a technology-driven program called the Virtual Senior Center (VSC) to enrich quality of life for socially isolated homebound older adults. 

Through the VSC program, homebound older adults use touchscreen computers with webcams to participate in interactive classes on a wide range of topics. The participants can see, hear, and talk with each other during the classes.

VSC Program Components 

The VSC features the following components:

  • All-in-one touchscreen computers, including a webcam, speakers, and a microphone.
  • Volunteer facilitators who lead the discussion-oriented classes.
  • An intuitive and easy-to-use web service that is adapted to the needs of older adults. 
  • Functionality to help family caregivers manage homecare services.
  • Ongoing discussions with participants and key stakeholders about additional functionality that could be incorporated into the service.   

When program participants turn on their special-purpose computers, they are taken to the VSC interface, bypassing the computer’s operating system. Participants can then view the VSC classes that they want to attend or navigate to a series of self-directed activities, such as email, internet links, games, and Skype. 

VSC Outcomes 

During 2013 and 2014, Selfhelp surveyed 200 VSC participants and members of control groups in Chicago, New York, and San Diego. Survey results confirmed 3 assumptions that Selfhelp held about the impact of the VSC project:

  1. VSC reduces a person’s sense of social isolation. Participants reported that their feelings of isolation had decreased by 85% since they joined the program.
  2. VSC had a positive impact on health. The percentage of intervention group members who reported a good, very good, or excellent health status increased by 51%. 
  3. Frail, homebound older adults can learn to use a computer. Participants logged 107,785 total hours on their devices (522 hours per participant), or an average of 1 hour a day during the study period.  

Business Model

Grant income has predominately supported the VSC to date. Selfhelp recently launched a new strategy through which the organization expects to earn income from subscription dues that older adults pay to access the service. Feedback from current subscribers suggests that this form of expansion will eventually grow significantly.

For More Information

See the full case study for more findings, challenges, lessons learned, and advice to others.