As little as five years ago, most adults over 65 probably thought an “app” was what you eat before your main entrée came to the dinner table. Now every facet of our lives is increasingly impacted by new and emerging technologies. This affects how we communicate, travel, shop and entertain ourselves.
The rapidly advancing array of devices and services now available aid people living independently and support aging in place. Seniors willing to embrace this technology can add fulfillment and a sense of security to their daily lives. These tools and technologies can be implemented either by individuals or on an enterprise or community level. All it takes is a robust Wi-Fi network connection and the whole world is brought into a user’s life. With all of the pros, there are still cons to consider. The enhanced connection requires older adults to be aware of the thieves and scammers directly targeting them.
The senior population is rapidly accepting the use of the Internet. In fact, adoption has more than tripled in the past two decades. The Pew Research Center reports that only 14 percent of seniors had Internet in their homes in 2000. As of 2017, that number has increased to 67 percent for adults over 65. In addition, 51 percent have high-speed Internet known as broadband. Across the age spectrum, from seniors 65 to over 80, the younger segment is more likely to have Internet. Eighty-two percent of seniors 65 to 69 have it, while only 44 percent of those over 80 have Internet access in their home. For seniors who do use the Internet, 71 percent are going online daily.
Facets of daily life impacted by these technological tools include:
- Communication: Residents can stay in touch with loved ones, friends or meet new people with common interests and backgrounds. It even supports dating. A tablet linked to a smart TV wirelessly can allow for video calling and the use of apps for social networking.
- Security: Living spaces can be monitored for intrusion as well as for activity, inactivity, falls and health issues. Wireless cameras, such as those from Ring, and motion sensors can keep an eye on loved ones and their living spaces.
- Medical: Technology can help monitor wellness and activity, deliver medication reminders order prescriptions and enhance communication with health care professionals. MedMinder is a medication storage and dispensing unit that automatically reminds and discharges pills and documents compliance when medication is taken.
- Education: Whether reading daily news, seeking information or participating in continuing education technology can keep people informed and in-touch with society. The Amazon Echo and Alexa, voice powered devices, allow seniors to simply ask questions—seeking and receiving information from the Internet.
- Entertainment: Play games, watch TV and movies on demand or listen to music. Seniors are able to play games that stimulate their mind. A tablet also bridges generations where older adults and their children and grandchildren can share a tablet, helping these age groups bond with each other.
- Utility: Shop, pay bills, order groceries and restaurant meals for delivery. Subscription meal plans on the market, including HelloFresh and Blue Apron, as well as DoorDash and Uber Eats provide options to cook for yourself or have dinner delivered. These options support variety and choice.
The items listed above are becoming commonplace for all our lives. This market penetration includes seniors as well, with as many as 70% of Americans over 65 reporting that they use the internet regularly. New applications are continually being developed that are geared towards seniors. Hardware advances provide form-factors that are easier to hold and operate with diminished dexterity and devices have better durability to withstand accidental drops and spills. A decline in visual clarity makes reading small fonts on smartphone screens challenging. Tablets and large screen TVs are more becoming commonplace as prices drop dramatically.
The key to successful tech implementation is consistent teaching and support. This helps reinforce the fact that these devices are more helpful than a hinderance. Often times the excitement and newness of these systems quickly wears off and people want to go back to comfortable ways of behaving. The people putting the tech in the hands of seniors need to understand that this “gift” needs constant attention to make it work as intended. Some senior living communities, like Horizon House in Seattle, have partnered with local computer retailers to have technicians visit the campus. They are available several times per month so residents can bring their personal devices and tech products when they need assistance.
On a larger scale, the Masonic Homes Kentucky partnered with Thrive Center, a local institution that focuses on healthy aging initiatives through technological innovation. Thrive Center works with actively aging adults directly to create a variety of educational programs and user-friendly technology for seniors. They have adopted Breezie, as their in-house communication system. Rather than using paper calendars and fliers in the mailroom, residents learn how to use a hand-held tablet aided with the technical support of Breezie. This system allows residents immediate access to internal email, for notices and updates, quick links to the menus of all the restaurants on campus, the lifestyle event calendars, movie schedules, hours of operation for the Care Clinic and much more.
A recent report from the National Science and Technology Council acknowledges several important facts about technology adoption:
- Mobile apps require frequent updates and relearning of operations, which can become frustrating. This may require someone to assist in relearning the new software on their device.
- Security and privacy threats fuel fears of technology. Older adults have concerns about new technology’s potential for invasions of personal and financial security.
- Demographic shifts show that the number of caregivers in the job market is not expected to keep pace with those who need help aging in place. Older adults will become more dependent upon technology as our society ages. The rise of telemedicine will require the digital communication link to be maintained between seniors and remote doctors.
“Device stigma” is also vanishing. In some cases, the tracking devices are becoming cool. A child might have a GPS watch that keeps tabs on him in the mall, while adults proudly sport activity wristbands to track their exercise and food. So, what’s the big deal about Grandpa wearing a GPS watch or pendant if he tends to wander or fall? Instead of feeling singled out or on house-arrest, wearing a trackable device is becoming an acceptable societal norm.
The bottom line is that there will be no avoiding the influx of tech in our society. The current generation of older adults contemplating a form of communal senior living is becoming savvier and more willing to utilize new services and devices. To developers and operators of these facilities, realize that new hard costs for fiber optic cabling infrastructure, complete WI-FI coverage, increased data security and continual training of both staff and residents will need to be included. These are becoming the modern replacement for telephone and tv services. Operational soft costs need to be considered for staff capable of teaching and supporting the use of systems and devices. When successfully adopted and managed, technology can be the differentiator between yesterday’s retirement home and today’s modern ‘connected’ senior living community.
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