The 21st Century Senior Living Community: Residents Speak, Tech Delivers

The 21st Century Senior Living Community is a series brought to you by CDW, a provider of technology solutions and services focused exclusively on serving the healthcare marketplace. The series takes a clear-eyed look at how leading providers and their partners are creating the next generation of senior living communities by raising the bar on services, design, and technology.

“Alexa, predict the future of senior living technology.”

If Amazon’s voice-recognition platform could answer this question, it might say: “I am the future.”

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Senior living communities are just starting to dip their toes into the growing pool of voice-command technology, but some believe that these systems could take providers’ hospitality and health care offerings to a new level.

While the current offerings don’t quite meet the needs of some providers, others might soon be ready to outfit a whole community. And systems that hit the sweet-spot for more senior living companies might not be far off.

Direction of the Future

Major providers are seeing voice technology as an incoming critical component of senior living, from confirming dinner reservations for residents and accessing a community’s daily activities to providing life-saving clinical interventions.

The idea of these devices is simple: users are able to tell an unobtrusive piece of hardware to play music, compile grocery lists, and do various other tasks, such as controlling connected devices in the home.

“I think [voice technology] is the direction of the future, and we are investing a lot of time and resources about how we can implement it into our communities,” Chris Guay, CEO and founder of Vitality Senior Living, tells Senior Housing News.

Vitality acquired its first community late last year, and, with five more developments in the pipeline, the company is looking at how to define the brand as an innovator with technology, and specifically with voice-command technology as a potential component.

With several options on the market already, such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, voice command is already a hot commodity. Vitality is on the cusp of a small pilot program with 10 senior living apartments to test the feasibility of voice command technology and collect feedback from residents.

“I’m a big fan of piloting things first to see what the impact is,” Guay says. “If we pilot it and get positive feedback, I think we would roll it out quickly, because it’s not a huge cost. It’s not a lot to a whole community for this functionality. I think people would pay an upgrade on that, and it’s a possible revenue stream.”

Vitality is considering trying out the familiar brand-name products available today, and potentially a mix of the products.

Specializing for Senior Living

Adding software on top of the existing hardware systems out there is already helping achieve the solution that senior living providers are looking for.

LifePod, a company that offers a “voice-controlled caregiver, companion and digital assistant,” has technology that works with all voice services on the market, including Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft. It adds services such as medication reminders, turning on lights, and reading news and weather.

It can also be pre-programmed to carry out hands-free action without a voice command and has check-in features to ask how residents are doing in intervals throughout the day. LifePod is about to start beta testing in an assisted living facility, LifePod told Senior Housing News.

However, full integration with a community’s existing technology is still a challenge. That’s what is behind the hesitation of one Chicago-based CCRC to dive head-first into voice tech, as the CCRC has its own internal portal that residents interact with and regularly use.

“Everyone is just scratching the surface,” says Kyle Exline, executive director at The Clare, of the implications of voice tech. “I think there are some integration challenges of how to roll it out in a community and integrate all the software we use. Not everything runs on Google. How do you sync it with our current nurse system?”

The Clare, a 326-unit high-rise community in downtown Chicago, is one provider on the prowl for the right system to bring on board, but isn’t in a rush to commit to a quickly-developing technology.

“I don’t think there’s a piece of technology that exists today that is what we are looking for,” Exline says of the voice-command field. “We are keeping our eyes on it.”

Exline expects that the community will adopt voice-command technology within the next few years, and see companies like Lifepod as promising and “on the right track” to the integration the company needs.

Clinical Implications and Beyond

Senior living providers aren’t just looking to be early adopters of voice technology for the sake of it—there are real potential clinical and financial advantages to these systems.

When it comes to connecting to current nursing systems, the status quo for on-demand emergency calls isn’t totally effective thanks to its design—often taking the form of push buttons that people have to wear. Not all seniors are on board with this wearable necklace of sorts. After all, no one likes to think they are old. This is where voice technology can step in and, quite literally, save the day.

“Everybody needs a nurse call system, it is a necessary piece of equipment,” Vitality’s Guay says. “You have got to have a way to notify a nurse in the event of an emergency. But that technology is not very advanced; it has not advanced beyond the push button. It’s really dependent on whether the person wears a pendant. We still hear that people don’t wear their pendants. A voice technology application needs to have a help system to call the front desk or 911.”

Beyond the clinical abilities of voice command, seniors who engage with it may be able to stay in their current setting longer.

“Visually impaired folks could have it work their lighting, the television, radio, download the events of the day, download reminders,” Guay said. “Now, someone with low vision has a lot more independence.”

Compared to using tablets and typing in requests, seniors tend to find voice technology easy to use, according to Exline.

Vitality, on the other hand, sees voice-command as supplementary to tablet technology.

“A tablet is always going to be something a majority of folks will want,” Guay says. “There’s a lot you can do from a visual standpoint—FaceTime with family, watch Netflix and read the newspaper.”

As the new senior living player continues to ramp up, Guay envisions providing every new resident with a tablet upon move-in to connect with the community. In a few years, that could complement a voice-controlled unit.

Written by Amy Baxter

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