Al Plotkin views his days-old great-granddaughter via e-mail on a new computer system at Kivel Campus of Care.
Al Plotkin views his days-old great-granddaughter via e-mail on a new computer system at Kivel Campus of Care.

Maddie Groshon took flying lessons during World War II and hadn’t flown again until a few weeks ago.

Agustin Rosas drove 18-wheeler trucks as a young man and just recently, at age 80, got back behind the wheel.

A 97-year-old woman, who never used a computer before, sent e-mail for the first time.

All of this is happening at Kivel Campus of Care in Phoenix, Arizona’s first nursing home to use It’s Never 2 Late, a computer system linking seniors to technology.

The adaptive computer lab allows older adults, regardless of physical or cognitive disabilities, to use technology in a variety of ways.

Although some of the residents used a computer before arriving at Kivel, for most it was a first.

Groshon found her first computer experience a little intimidating but “thrilling at the same time.”

“I had the feeling that I was back in a little Cessna,” she says about using the program’s flight simulator. “It was a really good feeling.”

She’s impressed with the variety of programs the computer offers, including flying a plane, driving a car, riding a bike, and games. It “gives you something to do, it stimulates your mind,” she says.

“Maddie had tears in her eyes” when using the flight simulator, says Crystal Corriere, director of Kivel’s therapeutic recreation department. Flying and driving are things these seniors “thought they’d never be able to experience, in any way, again,” she says. “And now they’re able to get that back.”

Rosas, who returned behind the wheel via a truck-driving simulator, says he’s heard a great deal about the Internet and calls himself “absolutely illiterate about computers.” He’s excited to enter the “whole new world of possibilities.”

It’s Never 2 Late is currently in 60 nursing homes in Colorado, where it was founded six years ago by brothers Jack and the late Tom York. It’s also in Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin, says Jack York. Kivel is the first nursing home in Phoenix to try this system.

When Kivel CEO Ira Shulman saw a presentation about a year ago, he knew he wanted it for Kivel. “It was clearly designed for our population and it would give them access to a world they’ve never seen,” he says. “I could just see their interest.”

He recommended the program to the Kivel Auxiliary, which raised money for the computer lab at last year’s annual luncheon.

“To watch someone who’s never used a computer enter the computer world is an amazing sight,” Shulman says.

Kivel introduced the first computer in August to the independent apartment residents. A kickoff in the Pavilion nursing home was Sept. 12 and a third kickoff, in the care center, was on Oct. 10.

Michael Lev, who started work as an It’s Never 2 Late independent contractor in June, trains Kivel staff and residents on the program. Initially, he thought residents would be afraid to try it, but he was quickly proven wrong. “They just dive in 100 percent,” he says. “They’re really open to learning.”

He says many seniors are a little apprehensive at first, worried that they’ll press the wrong button. But once they try it, they’re excited that “the world is opening up to them,” he says. He’s proud of the seniors he works with – “it takes a lot of guts to do what they’re doing.”

The computer system is not limited to seniors; it’s also being used toward rehabilitation, Love says. For instance, the system has aspects that work toward hand-eye coordination after a person is recuperating from a stroke. “The potential for the system is incredible,” he says. “We can gear the program toward each individual.”

The system offers an opportunity for each Kivel resident to be involved, Corriere says.

One program similar to a colorful, musical slide show provides sensory stimulation for patients with dementia, to help keep them alert and more involved in the environment.

The system also offers group programs – “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” games are projected onto a large screen for group participation.

Others use e-mail to communicate with family and friends. Al Plotkin, who lives in Kivel’s independent apartments, was able to view and print a photograph of his days-old great-granddaughter born in Chatsworth, Calif.

Doris Stein, another Kivel resident, enjoys playing games on the computer, such as the “gambling” programs – as she defines “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” games. She looks forward to receiving and sending e-mail to her daughter in Israel, who now calls her three times a week. “That gets to be expensive,” Stein says. She also plans to e-mail her son in California and several friends in Chicago.

The program also allows full Internet access that seniors use to research medications and medical conditions, find old classmates and military buddies and take advantage of everything else the Internet offers. “The residents have really embraced it,” Love says. “I want to Google” is a popular request.

The biggest obstacle Corriere found was residents thinking it would be too difficult.

But once they tried it, they got over their fear and enjoyed it, she says.

In the works is an e-mail pen-pal buddy program with local schools and a second pen-pal program with an out-of-state nursing home, Corriere says. “Right now children visit Kivel for activities and we want to keep that contact,” she says.

“It’s a great way for residents to really feel part of the community and connected.”

This article first appeared in the Nov. 12, 2004 issue of  Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.