Adults 65 and older have adapted to the technology world slower than younger generations, but their tech prowess continues to grow. According to data from the Pew Research Center, nearly 60 percent of seniors go online, and 77 percent have a cell phone.
Accustomed to having access to the digital world in their own home, seniors are looking for state-of-the-art technology services that allow them to maintain their independence. Senior living communities are being tasked with anticipating and catering to the growing needs of this generation.
How technology is evolving in senior living communities
Many cutting edge senior living communities are now being built and upgraded with technology in mind, says Marla Levie, president and founder of Focus on Aging, a marketing consulting firm for the elder care industry.
“The more technologically advanced the communities are, they have a value added selling point,” Levie says.
There is a growing demand for Wi-Fi connectivity throughout independent communities, for example, because seniors rely on the Internet to keep in touch with friends, see pictures and videos of children and grandchildren and communicate with family members.
Popular communities are also offering activities and classes around technology, says Evelyn Lee, industry manager for SunTrust’s senior living practice.
“More and more you see iPad clubs or Wii bowling tournaments where folks can play against other residences across the country. This allows them to stay connected with the community, stay sharp and learn new things all around technology,” Lee says.
Meanwhile, senior living facilities are incorporating advanced technology to improve efficiencies and create a safer environment for residents.
On the skilled nursing side, for example, some senior living communities are using sensory patches that can monitor how often a resident turns while in bed. Lee says this helps the nursing staff determine when in-person assistance may be required.
Technology has also become imperative to automate back-office efforts.
“We’re seeing more sophisticated requirements for technology on the billing side,” Lee says. “Moving residents toward paying electronically is a priority, and for those in the government reimbursement space, accuracy and efficiency are key; errors can result in withheld payments and even fines,” she says.
Lee adds that due to the enormous documentation requirements, facilities are attempting to move away from relying on paper-based processes.
How your senior living community can keep up with tech advancements
Implementing and improving technology in senior communities is essential to staying ahead of the curve. However, only 40 percent of senior housing organizations have an employee who is tasked specifically with implementing technology, according to a study conducted by Senior Housing News and Healthsense, a provider of remote monitoring services for the senior care industry.
Levie suggests working with tech partners from the early stages of development to refine the planning and design of communities, and to get the most out of technology services. Facilities need to know what their current residents want, what the next generation will expect and make investments accordingly. For instance, seniors tend to prefer tablets to smartphones because they are easier to read and handle, Lee says.
What’s more, some communities are partnering with specialized providers that focus on senior-friendly software, while others are hiring staff that is proficient in technology in order to stay ahead.
Many communities are utilizing financing solutions for building renovations and tech upgrades, such as high-speed Wi-Fi. For example, Lee says one of SunTrust’s largest Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) clients recently upgraded its entire campus, including all resident units, with Wi-Fi.
According to the community’s executive director, the upgrade caters to the many independent living residents who move in with desktops and iPads and rely on them for use daily.
“By opting to upgrade the entire location in one fell swoop, that particular CCRC was able to meet current demand in addition to anticipating the needs of future residents,” Lee says.
Facilities are also transitioning to online bill payments, which proves to be more efficient and less expensive, Lee says. “Moving that generation away from the paper checks they are used to and toward paying electronically is going to make a huge difference for facilities,” she says.