Senior living needs to make the ultimate push into the 21st century. With that push, providers can't ignore technology.
But the 21st century senior living community, or one that incorporates technology with the aim to enhance both the patient and provider experience, has many components, and defining it varies greatly by provider and perspective.
Overall, the vision largely deals with integrating technologies to: increase efficiencies, optimize workflows, adhere to current residents’ desires and prepare for future populations.
Another crucial aspect of the 21st century senior living community is the Internet of things, and how it focuses specifically on connections — from staff to resident, resident to resident, resident to family and friends, resident to caregiver and more. Today, the proliferation of interactive devices geared toward senior care have made this level of connectivity even more achievable.
“For Ohio Living, it’s trying to meet seniors where they are today, but also bringing things in to provide for the next generation of seniors,” says Joyce Miller, Chief Information Officer for Ohio Living. “It’s not leaving anyone behind, but also trying to look forward.”
That means planning for change by creating environments that can adapt quickly to accommodate new technologies, according to Dean Maddalena, president of studioSIX5, an Austin, Texas-based senior living interior design firm.
“To me, it’s going to be more about flexibility, because change is accelerating,” he says. “Next year, you don’t know what everyone is going to want.”
Flexible Tech Can Customize the Aging Experience
Senior living providers will also be called on more and more to deliver on-demand, customized experiences for the people they serve, according to Kari Olson, chief innovation and technology officer for Front Porch and president of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. This puts pressure on the traditional community model.
“In terms of how we operate, it’s going to be a challenge for us to transform our businesses and what we can do on demand,” Olson says. “Technology has a huge role to play in enabling and supporting that.”
Additionally, 21st century senior housing should be a place where technology fosters shared experience and an overall sense of community. And senior living of tomorrow will feature increasingly integrated technology, Olson says.
“What I see going forward is the integration into one overall system of services and supports for people,” she says. “The end point is making sure the customers are connected to the right people at the right time, in a personalized way.”
No matter how tech savvy seniors are today or will be in the future, though, it’s important to consider the sheer amount of downsizing that occurs time and again in the aging process, as has happened with all other generations. That’s not to say they won’t want technology at all, but it’s unlikely that they’ll want a plethora of gizmos and gadgets at their disposal, says Suzanne Viox, executive director of Link-age Connect. And anything that is implemented should be as unobtrusive as possible.
The Business Side of Tech-Savvy Senior Living
Beyond the resident experience, there are business considerations to take into account, and the role technology can play in establishing senior living as a viable player in the healthcare industry as a whole.
“The 21st century seniors housing community is based on the idea that, whether we want to admit it or not, senior housing will become more and more a part of the post-acute continuum of care,” says Charles Turner, president of PinPoint Senior Living, a developer and owner with 13 senior living properties in four states, and its operating company, LifeWell Senior Living.
“We will become a de facto partner with hospital systems, other post-acute providers and the medical community. As an industry, we need to provide more information to the marketplace to show how we care for our residents.”
As a result, PinPoint looks to invest in technologies that show a quantitative outcome depicting efforts to improve quality of life for residents. That information then becomes a powerful tool as PinPoint communicates and forges relationships with the outside world.
Likewise, Steve Hopkins, former COO of Evangelical Homes of Michigan and president of Curo Technologies, sees technology as a means of being proactive rather than reactive in terms of seniors’ health care, by collecting data about their day-to-day activities.
“We’re trying to gather important information about how people are doing when no one is there,” he says. “It’s the recipe for future efficiency and cost reduction.”
Senior living has historically lagged behind other industries when it comes to tech adoption — as of August 2015, 91 percent of providers had a wireless infrastructure on campus, according to a survey of almost 180 senior living CFOs from Chicago-based specialty investment bank Ziegler. But that percentage represents a recent sea change: The same study found that the percentage of communities that invested in Internet connectivity doubled between 2012 and 2013.
And the quality and depth of the Wi-Fi offered may very well fall behind what’s needed in the communities.
Although seniors have typically been associated with lack of interest in tech adoption, older adults who are coming of age for retirement will expect it. Only 25 percent of those in the silent generation use smartphones, as compared with 46 percent of older baby boomers and 59 percent of younger baby boomers.
Tablet use is slightly more scattered, at 29 percent for the silent generation, 41 percent for older boomers and 35 percent for younger boomers.
Tech Gives Healthy Aging Communities a Competitive Edge
Moving forward, the senior living sector must think ahead and bring communities up to speed if they want to remain competitive now and in the future.
“It’s really waking up and realizing where the world is heading,” says Chris Guay, president and CEO of Vitality Senior Living. “It’s important to adapt to provide something seniors really want.”
What exactly they want, though, is the ever-persistent question. It requires not only paying attention to what current senior living residents desire in terms of technology, but also what prospective residents might be seeking, as well as those who will consider senior living in five, 10 and even 20 years.
It also means looking outside the senior care industry for the latest technology for the latest technology trends in the hospitality, restaurant and retail sectors.
In any case, providers are taking various approaches to reach the ultimate goal of the 21st century senior living community, and that means contemplating innovative technology products, debating their use and benefits, and incorporating them as they see fit.
For more on how to make successful use of technology in the 21st century senior living community, check the report "The 21st Century Senior Living Community."