Physical health and mobility of older learners

Physical deterioration can make it difficult for older adults to get to and from class without the assistance of a walker, cane, or wheelchair, assuming the class is within walking distance. The difficulties associated with physical health are exacerbated if the class is offsite (i.e., the student needs to travel via car, van, or public transport to attend the class). For CCRC residents, mobility is an important issue as a majority, especially those in assisted living, require some sort of assistive device to help them get from place to place, such as a walker or wheelchair, and thus it can be an overwhelming task for them just to go from room to room, let alone go somewhere outside the CCRC. And even if the resident can leave, transportation to an offsite location can be tricky; not all are able to drive themselves, and not every CCRC has a transport system in place to take residents to different locations.

Therefore, technology trainers need to account for mobility issues. In our study, this meant bringing the class to the residents through the use of a mobile lab. Rather than holding the class in a community center or at a university, we instead took our mobile computer lab and brought it to the CCRC, setting up the class in a room at the CCRC that was easily accessible to the residents (usually a room that they frequented). This meant more work for us (as we were now the ones who were constantly traveling), but by making it easy for residents to get to and from class, participants will have less stress about their ability to get to class and will find the experience all the more comfortable and enjoyable.

Mobility is not the only physical limitation trainers need account for. Comfort in the classroom is another important consideration. Many older adults tend to have a hard time sitting in one place for an extended period of time; sitting in one place (especially without proper support) can lead to pain in the back and legs. Having proper seating can go a long way in preventing pain associated with being seated for an extended period. In our experience, many older adults in CCRCs opt for chairs with high backs (for support) and extra cushioning. Having armrests on the chair can also be advantageous, as many older adults use these to get up and down from a chair.

Illness can also pose as a significant barrier to learning, as older adults tend to be more susceptible to various ailments that can keep them from coming to class. These can range from relatively minor (such as a case of the common cold that keeps them in their room for a day) to more severe (such as pneumonia that sends the resident to the hospital for an extended period). Illness cannot be planned for, but steps can be taken to make sure the sick resident will be able to catch up once he or she is able to attend class again. As a reminder from the previous chapter, in our study, we had optional office hour sessions during our 8-week interventions wherein residents could come in and get one-on-one time with our instructors. For many residents who missed class due to illness, these office hours actually served as a makeup day where they would come in, learn the material they missed, and practice a bit.

For those who wish to conduct technology classes with residents of CCRCs, the takeaways regarding physical health and mobility are as follows:

  • • Make travel to the class as easy as possible by bringing the class to the participants. Hold the class sessions in the CCRC (rather than offsite at a community center) and choose a location for the class that is easily accessible. Popular locations tend to be dining halls or activity rooms.
  • Choose a room that makes mobility in the class easy, with enough space for furniture (tables and chairs) but also enough open space so that participants with walkers or wheelchairs may easily maneuver.
  • Cater the seating to the physical and comfort needs of the class (e.g., provide chairs with more cushioning for those who need them, and high tables for those sitting in motorized wheelchairs).
  • • Have a plan to accommodate those who miss class due to illness (e.g., provide makeup sessions or include optional office hours in your class protocol).
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