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Senior living providers are looking to social platforms to bridge a technological divide that has opened up between seniors and younger generations. Online avenues promoting social connectedness between residents and the outside world—or each other—can help close that gap, technology providers say.
Some incorporate popular social platforms such as Facebook and Skype, while others are honing in on technology that appeals specifically to seniors who may not have as much experience or wherewithal when it comes to online tools.
“A connected resident is a happier and healthier resident,” says Sarah Hoit, co-founder and CEO of ConnectedLiving, a communications technology provider based in the Boston area. “We believe residents should have the opportunity to not only get to know and social network with each other, but also, as importantly, to be involved with their family and their grandchildren, who are all connected.”
While 72% of online adults use social networking sites, fewer than half (43%) of seniors aged 65 and older have followed suit, according to August 2013 Pew Research Center data. That’s up from just 13% of Internet-using older adults in the spring of 2009, Pew notes—a possible indicator of broadening acceptance of platforms like the ConnectedLiving Network, which allows residents, staff, and family members to navigate personal accounts and connect with each other through a secured, community-specific social network that is designed with the senior consumer in mind.
The company’s solutions have been rolled out in communities operated by Brookdale Senior Living, Benchmark, Sunrise, Emeritus, and American House Senior Living, among others. Studies show that social isolation and loneliness speed up the aging process and can result in increased risk of functional decline or even early death.
While many residents use ConnectedLiving’s platform to connect with each other, the top reason many others adopt it is to maintain a connection with their families, and especially grandchildren, says Hoit.
“We’ve completely isolated a generation who kind of missed the tech divide,” she says. “The ability to connect them changes everything. It prevents isolation; gives them a voice; provides socialization; and [facilitates access to] family.”
That concept was also the impetus behind situational awareness technology provider Status Solutions’ CATIE (Communication and Access to Information Everywhere) product, says chief operating officer Amy Jeffs. CATIE is a customizable platform that enables mass communication between providers and residents and their families.
Residents can use an intuitive tablet-like interface to record reminders or send voice-enabled messages to loved ones; look at pictures; access the dining menu or community or personal calendars; or request concierge services. A LifeBio application allows users to compile their autobiographies by verbally answering a series of questions, and there’s also a directory where residents can choose to share certain information with others.
“Our generation looks at email like it’s part of our lives,” says Jeffs. “To think of a generation, a whole sector of our society that doesn’t view email as a way of life, and enabling them to view pictures, videos, and connect with people they normally would not be able to have a relationship with—all of these things create a social connection that helps bridge the gap to the outside community.”
An April 2012 Pew Research Center study on Internet usage found that 53% of people aged 65 and older use the Internet or email—the largest percentage ever. Much of the spin on the finding has been positive, Jeffs says, adding that it depends on which way you look at it: nearly half of seniors aren’t online. “The way we see it, communication at its core is a basic human need,” she says. “We’ve got to be able to make sure our seniors are able to communicate, not only within the community but especially outside the community.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace