Edmontonian Honored for Keeping Seniors Connected During COVID-19 Pandemic

On Thursday, the Alberta government presented a Minister’s Senior Service award to Haidong Liang, executive director of the Westend Seniors Activity Center and architect of a catalog of online activities that kept members active and engaged despite public health restrictions.

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The province is recognizing an Edmonton gerontologist for his “outstanding service” to Alberta’s elders after he kept them connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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On Thursday, the Alberta government granted a Minister’s Superior Service Award Haidong Liang, executive director of the Westend Senior Activities Center and architect of an online activity catalog that kept members active and engaged despite public health restrictions.

In March 2020, when the broadcast threat forced the center, a traditional social hub for older Edmontonians, to close its doors, Liang saw an opportunity to open a virtual avenue to programming. Within a month, US seniors , the centre’s digital platform, offered virtual classes to members through video conferencing applications such as Zoom.

But before that, he had to break a possible access barrier.

“Without even getting funding from the government, my team immediately began offering individualized technology support to older people,” he said.


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That involved creating fact sheets and instructional brochures personally delivered to members through a partner organization called Drive happiness , which offers assisted transportation services.

Within the first 10 months of the pandemic, the center provided technology training to more than 800 members, Liang added, and during the pandemic it offered more than 100 online courses.

“Older people are actually more adaptable than people think,” he said.

Before the pandemic, 78-year-old Kaye Langager was at the center three to four days a week to participate in exercise, yoga and writing classes. She said she had “never heard of Zoom” until Liang created the online offerings, but the center made the transition seamless for her and others in the same situation.


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“I don’t think there has been a greater number of seniors who have learned to zoom as quickly as they did at Westend Seniors (Activity Center),” said Kaye, who is also a vice president of the board of directors. “Many people in our age group are also not very familiar with computers, so it doesn’t come naturally to us.”

These days, the center offers 30-40 online courses, he says, including dance, yoga and exercise, as well as language and technology training that draws participants from all over Alberta, many of whom rely on him for something more. than fitness and education.

“For many people, it is a great social attraction,” he added. “So many things are happening.”

She credits Liang and her ingenuity with providing the center with some continuity during a tumultuous time when many older Albertans, already at significant risk of social isolation, may have been stranded.

According to reports from Statistics Canada, about one in five Canadians over the age of 65 said they feel isolated from others, while about one in four wishes they could participate in more social activities. Research cited by the federal government associates social isolation with poor physical and mental health, as well as dementia, depression, and an increased risk of premature death.

“Our job is to remove all those barriers to keep them socially engaged so that we don’t leave those people out,” Liang said.

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