If you have read some of my previous articles, you know that my father lives in a skilled nursing facility. He has several health issues that make it unsafe for him to live independently, and this arrangement makes the most sense for our family. Dad is an educated man: he earned a PhD, and he worked in scientific environments most of his life. Problem solving, research, hypotheses, and ideas made up every day conversation. At his health care facility, conversation tends to be focused on the here and now, when the next activity will be, what is for dinner, and other more mundane topics..
Because I want the best for him, I wanted to help him connect to science and ideas, his “native language,” in a way. Then an idea came to me – let’s watch TED Talks!
TED Talks are presentations about a topic related to technology, entertainment or design. It’s like a college lecture being given by an expert. Most of the younger generation are familiar with TED Talks, but many older folks have no idea what they are and how much fun they can be.
Anyone can view TED Talks for free on the Internet at www.ted.com and on the TED YouTube channel. Some National Public Radio stations offer the “TED Radio Hour” program and there’s a TED Talks podcast.
Engage with TED Talks
I showed an episode to Dad one afternoon, and he was quickly engaged.
This got my wheels turning – maybe other residents would enjoy TED Talks.
Note: TED Talks do require licensing for commercial organizations. If you are considering starting a similar program for seniors, I encourage you to read the Usage Policy and the Creative Commons License Attribution – NonCommercial – NonDerivative to make sure you are not in violation.
Choosing the Talks
Every week, I selected talks that I thought would appeal to a broad range of viewers. Not every topic will interest every viewer; however, I discovered that if the speaker is compelling and enthusiastic, or if the topic has general appeal, the audience will be drawn into the topic. One of the reasons TED is so successful is that the speakers craft their presentations so that most people can understand them.
I watched each talk in its entirety before selecting it for the program. I didn’t want any surprises, like unexpected cuss words or an unforeseen anatomy lesson. My goal was to enlighten and entertain, not offend or embarrass. Truth be told, a few talks have had swear words occasionally, but I would be able to warn them ahead of time.
Most of my programs were a hodge-podge of topics. I had the most success finding unique and compelling talks by searching for a word on the TED website, instead of using playlists, topic lists or lists of favorites available on the TED website. Searching for words like “snow,” “independence” or “insightful” brought up an eclectic variety of talks!
Considerations for Seniors
Many seniors have difficulty with hearing and vision. I always showed talks on the large-screen TV with the volume loud and subtitles enabled. Those that could not hear well could follow along with the subtitles. Those who did not see clearly could enjoy listening. I was careful to choose talks that didn’t rely too much on seeing tiny or subtle details on the screen.
Attention spans were also a challenge. My goal was to choose talks lasting about 20 minutes or less, and to mix up the length of talks during my program. A long talk was followed by a shorter one. The first talk was selected to be first if it was fairly brief, and had general appeal to draw in the audience.
We had some very special moments with the residents during the TED Talks Program. One resident had made pottery during her younger years, and a talk about art beautifying the slums of a major city captivated her. For a few minutes, her mind transcended daily life and connected with beauty and lightness. Another time, a man with dementia who habitually confronted and argued with the staff burst out laughing at a funny talk about teaching. Once, after a particularly challenging talk about society’s perception of handicapped people, we had an interesting discussion on the subject.
I could always count on Dad to wake up and pay attention whenever a data in a graph or chart was displayed during a talk, regardless of the topic. Once a scientist, always a scientist.
Some talks discuss historical events. With the senior audience, I would ask them if they remembered those events, such as the Lyndon Johnson presidency, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and the fall of Saigon. These folks lived through these events and they probably hadn’t thought about them for many years.
Share TED Talks!
If you want to try TED Talks with a senior in your life, how you would know where to start? There are thousands of talks online!
Fortunately, we have compiled a list of ten TED talks enjoyed by our audience. Download now and share some ideas!