A defining factor for residents of senior living communities can be the separation from past family and friends. But the online tools made available by communities are changing that by allowing them to stay connected with the outside world using e-mail or tools such as Skype.
It’s not without some preparation on the part of providers, many of which are just starting to implement Wi-Fi throughout communities as well as computer labs, tablets, and moveable monitors in the case of residents who are less mobile.
But in order to really make the technology work in senior living, providers agree that training, maintenance and usability are essential, especially considering the preferences of the target demographic.
“Through our trial and error and lessons learned, it does require upfront education on both sides,” says Kelly Scott Lindstrom, VP of Program Development and Innovation for Emeritus Senior Living. “That introduction is vital to get residents and families engaged, but equally vital is that the program director and internal team understands the portal so we can be coaching as well.”
Emeritus has partnered with Boston-based ConnectedLiving to offer a platform to its residents that allows for customization and branding on the community level, but a global reach in terms of the accessibility it provides to residents as well as their families. The technology is being used by Emeritus as well as Brookdale and Benchmark Senior Living, among others.
The differentiating factor is the ambassadors who work with residents to aid in the transition to technology.
“If you don’t have the training for staff and for residents and to engage, it’s not sustained,” says Sarah Hoit, ConnectedLiving CEO and co-founder. “That’s key.”
The portal also allows families access to a window into the community. Through the portal, families can find out what’s for dinner, what’s on the activities agenda, and a directory of other residents within the community.
“When we launch a community, we get 99.9% of the seniors on the directory and see what they have in common with one another,” Hoit says.
Simplifying Technology for Seniors
The software and ambassador resources are integral to helping senior living residents get online, but the equipment has to be there as well, whether residents own their own computers or tablets, or the community provides them for communal use. And they have to be comfortable with that equipment in order to use it.
Rather than to emphasize training, Status Solutions has approached technology for senior living residents from an ease-of-use standpoint. The company’s CATIE platform allows users to communicate a message immediately through a mere touch or voice command.
“Keyboards freak a lot of people out, so we skipped Bill Gates and cut to Steve Jobs,” says the company’s founder and president, Mike MacLeod. “User interface is key. The touch screen had to be there. But then further than that, we integrated a voice mail interface. If a resident wants to respond to email, just speak. It doesn’t matter if they have email if they don’t use it.”
Whichever the platform, communities are finding that residents are ready for the technology, or if not ready, they are receptive.
Benchmark Senior Living has implemented the ConnectedLiving platform across its 86 communities, finding the reception to be overwhelmingly positive.
“[One surprise] has been how many of our residents have embraced it,” says Teri Marinko, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Benchmark. “Eighty percent of our assisted living residents are using it in some form or fashion.”
Benchmark, which has branded the ConnectedLiving platform “Benchmark Connect,” has seen the technology allow for East Coast residents in their 90s to connect with great grandchildren in California, among other experiences such as finding their favorite music online or researching about travel worldwide.
“We’re able to connect families in a much more meaningful way,” Marinko says. “Once they’re able to actually see a great great grandchild, it’s an experience that’s hard to quantify for the senior.”
Improving Quality of Life for Senior Living Residents
While assisted living and independent living communities typically have fewer hurdles when it comes to mobility of residents, Brookdale Senior Living has seen residents in its memory care and hospice care units using technology to connect successfully.
Through It’s Never 2 Late, residents in 110 of Brookdale’s Clare Bridge Alzheimer’s and dementia care communities have access to the communication platform via moveable monitors that can travel from room to room on wheeled tables or carts.
“We’re utilizing it with hospice to connect with loved ones in the days or hours prior to death,” says Juliet Holt Klinger, Director of Dementia Care Programs for Brookdale. “It can be an incredibly powerful use that no one envisioned or talked about.”
Brookdale is planning the rollout of the technology throughout all of its Clare Bridge communities.
Whether residents have never used a computer or are “plugged in,” on their own, they are on the go or confined by physical or mental ailments, the connectivity that today’s technology provides has proven to span the whole aging population.
“It improves their empowerment and quality of life,” says Brookdale’s Sara Terry, VP of Optimum Life. “They feel like they’re learning something new, and it’s really cool. They’re proud of what they’re able to do and proud of being able to share the world with friends and family.”
Providers say they can’t begin to guess what’s ahead, but they are prepared for today’s used of technology to represent just a small portion of what will be available for tomorrow’s senior living residents.
“No one can say seniors don’t connect,” Hoit says. “They can and they will. They do it in droves.”
Written by Elizabeth Ecker
This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org.