Senior living providers know they should keep up with new technology trends, but it’s tough to know what to invest in and how to get more residents engaged with tech. One continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Atlanta has found an advantage in having tech super-users living among those who are just learning the ropes.
The community’s chief financial officer and one of its residents recently spoke with Senior Housing News about the CCRC’s approach to tech investments, rolling out new offerings, and its Best Buy-inspired approach to tech support.
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A high-rise community located near downtown Atlanta, Lenbrook offers an entrance-fee model and has more than 500 residents. With a few generations living within the community, different resident groups use technology in their own ways.
“We have three distinct levels of technology users,” says Lenbrook CFO Daniel Dornblaser. “We have people who don’t use technology in their day-to-day lives, no cellphones. We have folks in the middle who might use some [tech], like emails. Then we have the folks who are texting all the time, emailing, using Netflix.”
The way the community introduces new technology needs to acknowledge these differences and preferences among the residents, Dornblaser says. For instance, while the community is working on switching from paper memos and announcements to digitized schedules, not all residents are on board. As a result, the community has both digital signage that displays daily activities as well as paper memos. Lenbrook will eventually get to all digital, according to Dornblaser.
The challenges of getting all residents on board with new tech hasn’t stopped Lenbrook from making serious upgrades—to the tune of a roughly $300,000 investment in an audio and video system, with professional lighting and upgraded audio to help seniors with hearing or vision issues.
3 ‘Buckets’ for Investment
In addition to community upgrades, Lenbrook invests across three “buckets” of technology—safety, health and wellness, and social connectivity. The technology introduced is largely based on needs and what will benefit residents most.
For safety, Lenbrook has panic buttons, and basic assisted living and memory care tools, like wander management and devices that let a person know if their stove has been left on. Within health and wellness, the community utilizes medication management and tools for cognitive stimulation.
For social connectivity, Lenbrook is taking a deep dive into how residents can benefit most from technology. Some research shows that engaging online and being connected to friends and family through the Internet can help reduce feelings of isolation among seniors, but not everyone is interested. Lenbrook is planning to survey its residents about their interest in things like web portals, online calendars and more.
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Many seniors in the community already have their own smartphone or tablet, and have been learning new technologies and apps. One app that has taken off in popularity is Uber, which allows seniors to call a ride on demand from their phone.
The community has also gotten involved with the service, helping residents hail rides to supplement its own valet service.
Resident-Led ‘Geezer Squad’
Residents are also helping each other learn new technology and figure out any IT issues they may have. One of the community’s greatest technology strengths is its own “Geezer Squad.” A play on the “Geek Squad” tech support experts who are familiar sights in Best Buy stores, the Geezer Squad is a small team of residents who help out other residents with tech, whether it’s setting up a new smartphone or fixing an issue on a tablet.
“It’s a resident-developed group that is there to help fellow residents about various IT issues,” says Dornblaser. “The group has people who are proficient in Apple computers, iPads, tablets, cellphones. The squad is available to help residents whenever there is a problem.”
The group is led by Jim Cochrane, who has been a resident at Lenbrook for just over seven-and-a-half years. Since he came to the community, it has made big strides to improve its tech access for residents, including adding a computer lab. Cochrane got the idea to start Geezer Squad after realizing that many of his fellow residents needed one-on-one help with more than just computers. The group has been active for six years, he says.
“The Geezer Squad part just developed naturally,” he says. “Most of the residents now know who to call when they have a problem. People get stuck and they don’t know what to do next. We can show them how to connect to the Internet, et cetera …In our population, some folks are reluctant, but getting them to feel confident is important.”
To date, the Geezer Squad has completed nearly 1,000 calls to help residents, says Cochrane. Over the years, the variety of devices the squad helps with “has exploded,” he says.
Cochrane has also found that the reaction to technology is different for the individual. But, the first and most important lesson he tries to instill in all residents is not to be afraid of technology and, in particular, not to be afraid of breaking their new gadget.
“Some folks are dismayed by the thought of all this stuff,” Cochrane says. “It all depends on a person’s motivation. One resident who has a daughter who was a surgeon in Iraq was determined to learn to communicate by email. Other people are just curious.”
Written by Amy Baxter