Sylvie Anderson, 72, poses in this undated handout photo. Sylvie Anderson, 72, says she didn’t know what a podcast was before learning how to record them and stay connected during the pandemic as part of a senior’s centre project in Vancouver. (Ying Xiao photo)

Senior podcasters take on tech to stay connected with each other and the world

City of Vancouver providing some of the funding this year to the 411 Seniors Centre Society for podcast project

Podcasting seemed like a frightening technological venture for Sylvie Anderson before she “gave it a whirl” with a group trying to stay connected during the pandemic through shared stories.

“I barely knew what it was,” she says. ”I had heard the term, but I certainly hadn’t listened to one.”

Anderson, 72, is among a group of seniors eager to learn how to participate in the ”Powered by Age” podcast, with the city of Vancouver providing some of the funding this year to the 411 Seniors Centre Society.

Charlotte Ferrell, co-ordinator of podcasting for the centre, says planned podcasts follow a four-part series produced last year as part of a pilot project.

Ferrell, 73, jokingly calls the current project ”podcasts on steroids” and says each episode will feature three, eight-minute segments on topics ranging from managing diabetes, surviving cancer as well as lighter fare involving arts and culture.

One participant is planning to interview centenarians and has lined up a chat with a 100-year-old woman who is still a choir director at her church, Ferrell says, adding the podcasts will be available on nine platforms.

“Some of the things people want to talk about are non-traditional relationships,” she says, including an upcoming segment involving a woman who will discuss the struggles she faced as a lesbian when her partner died.

The centre reached out to four other seniors’ centres in the Vancouver area to recruit potential podcasters and now has 44 people ready to learn, she says.

“Part of our purpose is to share this model we’re working through with other cities,” says Ferrell, who was a health promotion officer for Toronto Public Health during the HIV crisis.

Some of the latest recruits to podcasting weren’t too tech savvy but those with some experience have taught others to use various online sites like Facebook and Zoom so they can stay connected while remaining apart from each other as well as friends and family, Ferrell says.

The group had scheduled a second meeting Thursday via Zoom to discuss some podcast segments while the centre and a recording studio in the same building are closed due to physical distancing measures.

Aspiring podcasters have learned to use recorders on their phones to practise their podcasting voices so they can record stories and poems.

“There’s this voice recording app thing that’s now on my phone,” Anderson says. “And I had not encountered Zoom till last Thursday.”

Hearing her voice was the toughest part for Anderson when she went into the recording studio in February.

“I found that terrifying, absolutely terrifying, but in a good way. I was screeching into the microphone,” she says with a laugh.

She hopes to explore social issues and neighbourhood happenings as part of her contribution to the podcast.

“When you’ve grown up in a generation and you’ve experienced certain things in your lifetime there is a sense of community that exists there, and to talk about things that inspire us, things that interest us, things that piss us off.”

Emily Hsu started some educational sessions on podcasting at the 411 Seniors Centre at the same time that Anderson joined in but was already an avid fan of podcasts, especially those involving health.

She plans to record podcasts about mindful eating and says staying at home is a great time to learn about slowing down and learning to taste food for good health.

“With social distancing there’s no meeting or gathering so podcasting, I think, is a channel to reach out to people and give them comfort,” says Hsu, who is a life coach.

Andrew Sixsmith, director of the Science and Technology for Aging Research Institute at Simon Fraser University, visited the 411 Seniors Centre last year to learn about the podcasting project.

The unique initiative shows seniors are a resilient group that is not only vulnerable to COVID-19, says Sixsmith, who is also scientific director of Age Well, Canada’s technology and aging network.

“Yes, the majority of deaths have been for people over 65, but the over-65 population is very, very heterogeneous, both in terms of their susceptibility to COVID-19 but also everything else — their situations, their abilities and their education,” he says.

“We often think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but actually a lot of seniors are able to use technology and they’re stepping up to the challenge.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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