How Tech Supports a New Concept of Seniors’ Wellness

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.

Wearable, “smart” devices like the Apple Watch, Fitbit and Garmin Connect have reinvented the way many Americans — including seniors — view fitness and exercise.

While younger fitness buffs tend to utilize the technology as part of their training, the devices can also provide senior living organizations with valuable data, as well as allow them to approach the concept of physical fitness in a more age-appropriate way.

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Kenneth Smith, senior research scholar and director of mobility at the Stanford University Center on Longevity, has been studying the correlation between health and activity through the use of wearable devices. He shared his findings in a recent Senior Housing News webinar sponsored by CDW Healthcare, called “Reinventing Resident Engagement Through Wellness in Senior Living.”

In his presentation, Smith acknowledged the sedentary lifestyle common in the United States and explained how institutions, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, recommend that adults partake in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity three days per week.

This level of activity may not be feasible for some — especially seniors. Luckily, it’s perfectly valid to count going for a walk or completing a daily chore as a physical activity for older adults, Smith said. That’s why he advocates thinking about seniors’ fitness in terms of a “24-hour activity cycle” that is comprised of these more everyday activities, as opposed to moderate or rigorous exercise.

Redefining active aging

For Colin Milner, CEO of the Vancouver-based International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), a 24-hour activity cycle embodies the definition of active aging, in which individuals, regardless of age, are fully engaged in life.

“This supports [the idea] that [physical activity is] a lot more than just exercise,” Milner said. “Youre beginning to see a shift taking place [in the senior living industry]… where the focus is more about function and what you do day-to-day and how it impacts your health and well being.”

Brenda Abbot-Shultz, corporate director of residential programming at Newton, Massachusetts-based Five Star Senior Living (Nasdaq: FVE), also acknowledged the positive impact the adoption of this model of well-being can have on the senior living industry.

“It requires a paradigm change in senior living to look at what a fully engaged life looks like for our residents, and how to individualize that for each of them,” she said.

Senior living organizations are beginning to take this new way of looking at physical fitness seriously, particularly as older adults are not only living longer, but they are also showing a vested interest on ways to live healthier, according to Milner.

Many senior living communities, for example, are responding to older adults’ growing interest in living healthier lives by adjusting their overall programming to impress the “younger senior” crowd.

According to ICAA’s research, out of the 664 senior living communities it surveyed, 76% are adjusting their resident programming to appeal to adults 70 years and younger.

Further, the ICAA also found that 40% plan to track the outcomes of improved resident programming, and that 40% also plan to purchase technology, like wearable devices, to monitor these activities. 

Measuring success

Though there may be some trepidation among organizations when it comes to implementing wearable technology and this “24-hour activity cycle,” communities that do so can expect their residents’ health to improve, Milner explained.

He cites a 2017 ICAA/ProMatura benchmark report, which found that independent living residents participating in a wellness program live 2.7 years longer than independent living residents who do not.

Utilizing wearable technology as part of wellness programming allows senior living organizations to keep a close eye on the overall health of residents, explained Milner.

“We will be… analyzing the patterns in [residents’] lives and looking for the small changes before they become big issues,” he said. “By doing that, we have the potential to compress morbidity even further.”

Data from wearable fitness devices can show the improvement in physical health of the resident. This overall improvement can lead to possibilities, like a reduction in patient falls, or even a decrease in hospital transfers, that senior living organizations can use to measure the success of their wellness programming, according to Abbot-Shultz.

“Those are the types of things, from a benchmark perspective, that technology will help us achieve,” she said.

All things considered, the traditional wellness programming offered in many communities today needs to change, according to Ginna Baik, senior care practice leader at CDW Healthcare.

“Clearly, the idea of the 30-minute chair exercise isn’t going to be enough inside of a senior living community — it’s about working smarter and not harder,” Baik said during the webinar. “And we don’t have the physical resources; we’re having a caregiver shortage that’s emerging, and the recognition is that technology has to be that bridge.”

Written by Carlo Calma

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