'Pokemon Go' helps senior living residents connect to younger relatives

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Debra Klinger, left, director of residential services at Christus St. Joseph Village, teaches residents Kay and Ray Denkhoff how to catch a Pokemon.
Debra Klinger, left, director of residential services at Christus St. Joseph Village, teaches residents Kay and Ray Denkhoff how to catch a Pokemon.

A Texas retirement and assisted living community is tapping into a cultural phenomenon as a way to help residents connect with their younger family members and maybe get a little exercise in the process.

The not-for-profit Christus St. Joseph Village in Coppell, TX, held a class on July 19 to introduce residents to “Pokemon Go.” The interactive augmented reality game incorporates the GPS and camera on a user's smartphone or iPad as he or she tries to locate and “capture” cartoon creatures.

The class “was a lot of fun, and the response was pretty amazing,” Katy Kiser, public relations manager at parent organization Christus Health, told McKnight's Senior Living. “We were expecting maybe half a dozen residents to attend the class, and we actually had about 25.”

Participants included residents who use smartphones or iPads as well as flip-phone users and others who just wanted to see what the fuss was about.

“They were really interested because it really is in the news quite a bit, and they wanted to be able to tell their grandkids, ‘Hey, I've played “Pokemon Go,” too,' ” Kiser said. “It's something to help them understand this new generation and the interest that they have.”

Debra Klinger, Christus St. Joseph Village director of residential services, organized the class, during which Kiser shared with residents the evolution of the Pokemon craze and Meghan Vital, Christus Health social media specialist, helped interested residents download the app and start playing the game.

In addition to helping residents relate to their grandchildren, Vital said, the exercise helped staff members form a connection with residents.

“For those people who weren't able to come to the class, we'll probably do another one next month if there's an interest,” Kiser said.

In the meantime, residents who attended the first class continue to play the game. (The accompanying photograph shows what a smartphone screen might look like during a game of “Pokemon Go.”) “One woman has reached level two,” Kiser said.

It's too hot in Texas right now for the residents to venture outside of the air-conditioned comfort of the community, Kiser said, but “the good thing about Christus St. Joseph Village is that it is a beautiful, gated community and there is a lot of inside air-conditioned space to explore.” Residents are “very much aware” of the need to pay attention to where they are going while playing the game, she added, and are taking precautions to be safe.

Some researchers believe that the game offers physical benefits in addition to social ones, especially for those who can walk.

“If there is something out there that is getting people off the sofa and pounding the streets, then this game could be an innovative solution for rising obesity levels,” said Tom Yates, Ph.D., a diabetes researcher at the University of Leicester in England. “Walking is hugely underrated, yet it is man's best and the cheapest form of exercise. It's an easy and accessible way to get active and help maintain a healthy body.”

In the Christus St. Joseph Village video below, an 87-year-old resident shares her hopes for using the "Pokemon Go" app.

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