How New Tech Could Help Senior Housing’s Isolation Problem

Though some tech-savvy seniors can be found on Facebook, joining a modern-day social network may seem out of reach for a large number of older adults—especially those who are unfamiliar with or resistant to technology.

Now, some tech innovators and forward-thinking senior housing providers are taking steps to change things.

Thanks to work out of the University of Notre Dame, residents at two senior housing communities in South Bend, Indiana, have been able to create their own social networks, fostering a sense of community where it had previously been lacking.

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A tablet app, eSeniorCare, was developed by the university’s Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science & Applications (iCeNSA). It is meant to be used simultaneously by both seniors and their health care support services, iCeNSA Director Nitesh Chawla told Senior Housing News.

In addition to what the senior living industry has come to expect from such an app—tracking medication adherence, medication scheduling and management, observations of daily living and various health-related goals—eSeniorCare connects seniors to other residents within their community through competitive “brain games.”

There are, for instance, a variety of Sudoku and crossword puzzles, games, and activities on the app, carefully designed to enhance seniors’ cognitive health. If seniors perform well, the app allows them to make and share virtual trophies with other app users—giving them bragging rights amongst their friends and peers.

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In that way, Chawla said, the app helps build social networks around peer groups.

“We really have built a social-ecological model around these seniors,” he told SHN.

So far, the app has been piloted in three three affordable housing communities for seniors 55-years-old or older in South Bend. But those involved see a future for the app beyond independent living environments.

Scaling Up, Branching Out

The eSeniorCare app was rolled out as part of the Aging in Place program at Memorial Hospital, which is part of the South Bend-based Beacon Health System. The program places a resident-life assistant and a nurse in low-income independent living facilities for seniors, with the goal of keeping residents living independently in their homes.

Kimberly Reeves, the community benefit investment coordinator at Beacon Health System, told SHN she has seen the positive benefits of the app first-hand.

“We’ve seen a sense of community,” she explained to SHN. “It brought the residents together.”

Reeves noted that residents actually had to come out of their apartments to learn how to use the technology, which brought the seniors closer to staff. She also noted the sense of pride the “brain games” component of the app instilled in residents.

“I had a resident show me that they completed over 600 crossword puzzles, and that’s phenomenal,” Reeves told SHN.

According to Chawla, the amount of time and research that went into eSeniorCare makes the app unique. At the same time, if future research funding proves inadequate, it may delay the app’s roll out to the public and other senior living arenas.

“What I’m hoping is that, in a year or so, we’d love to be able to make it available to broader individuals, or even home care folks,” he told SHN. “We would certainly like to take it to the assisted living facilities as well.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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