Technology is playing a larger role across the health care system and allowing more individuals to age in place, but that doesn’t mean seniors are going to remain in their homes.
For many older Americans, aging in place can also mean staying at the same senior living setting throughout the golden years, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). And technology is making it easier than ever for seniors to transition to independent living settings with the promise of aging in place, according to a report from Varsity, a senior living marketing and sales consulting agency.
Continuing Care With Tech
While the vast majority of Americans say they want to remain in their own homes throughout retirement, the idea of aging in place has taken on a couple different meanings. Instead of remaining at home, aging in place can also refer to simply remaining in the same care setting for a number of years.
Varsity took a look at how technology was being integrated in the senior market by living at and doing focus groups at Frasier Meadows, a CCRC located in Boulder, Colorado, as well as conducting other focus groups. The firm dubbed the effort “Project Looking Glass II,” as it came after a similar endeavor in 2007. The latest report confirms that personal technology now has a significant place in aging and retirement preferences.
Seniors today want to feel safe at home, and technology is quickly adapting to a market that needs advancements in home modifications. Outfitting a home with the latest home medical equipment can potentially allow seniors to live on their own longer. Medication management, remote monitoring, automated lighting and fall prevention and detection are all features seniors can implement into their units.
Compared to Varsity’s previous study in 2007, these upgrades with the promise of remaining in one place are influencing more seniors to move into a CCRC.
“Nearly unheard of in our 2007 study, the concept of aging in place is now familiar both older and younger Transitionals, as are the upgrade and modifications required to make it a reality,” the report reads.
In fact, many of the research subjects decided to move into a continuing care retirement community because it offered the opportunity to remain in the same place even as health care needs change, Varsity found.
“For many, aging in place not only means remaining in their family home, but remaining in an independent living unit at the community itself,” the report states.
Beyond home medical equipment and modifications, seniors today also want communities that are well connected with an infrastructure to support the latest tech trends, Varsity found.
Use of the Internet among seniors has bloomed from 19% in 2008 to 40% in 2010 and 53% in 2012, Varsity wrote in the report, citing Pew research. Seniors are concerned about communities that offer only limited Wi-Fi that could impact their ability to use personal devices and available health care and aging-in-place technology.
Communities that offer better infrastructures to support technology may hold an advantage over their competitors, according to Varsity.
No More Yellow Pages
To illustrate how senior living providers and tech companies could potentially draw some lessons from the findings, Varsity President Wayne Langley related them to some of his own experiences.
Not only do seniors look for robust technology infrastructure in their senior living options, they already are migrating away from old-school print resources when it comes to learning about what’s out there—to the surprise of Langley and his colleagues.
“Most surprising to us was that no prospective—nobody—mentioned the Yellow Pages as a source for locating a potential community option,” he told Senior Housing News. “Yet, in many audiences, at least 25% of the participants respond affirmatively that they continue to invest in Yellow Page advertising.”
And senior living companies are not the only organizations who seem to be underestimating seniors’ technological savvy. Langley’s own parents recently called one of the larges cellular companies in the country, and the representative discouraged them from purchasing a smart phone. Tech providers must convince their own staff that seniors can and do leverage technology, Langley said.
The power of family members to increase seniors’ tech usage and seniors’ embrace of mobile tech are other lessons that both the Varsity research and Langley’s own experience highlight. Langley’s children are excited to teach Grandma and Grandpa new aspects of their devices, he said. And his access to his mother’s data usage revealed something unexpected:
“One of the advantages of today’s cellular family plans is the access one has to their parents data usage—wow, what a surprise!” he said. “It only took two billing cycles for my mom’s data usage to surpass mine. With her smart phone, she has far more access to the marketplace.”