Jul 20 2020

How Collaborative Tech Improves Senior Living During the Pandemic

A variety of tools and training can make it easy for older adults to connect and thrive despite ongoing isolation measures.

Important safety measures to keep high-risk people isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic hold a particular disadvantage for older adults in assisted living.

Whether it’s visiting with a relative or talking with a resident down the hall, these one-on-one connections are critical for an older adult’s well-being. Moreover, the separation can prohibit necessary face time with people supplying medical care.

Increased use of collaboration tools is helping fill that void as the public health emergency continues — and it’s providing great benefit for older adults seeking to regain the social exchanges they’ve lost in recent months.

By providing residents with tablets and video calling capabilities, along with robust Wi-Fi connections and hands-on training, conversations with loved ones and telehealth visits can easily take place. 

The concept may seem simple to many of us, but a successful effort requires planning and maintenance to serve the people who need it most. 

Video Chat Platforms Help Older Adults with Making Social Connections

Purpose-driven screen time is finding multiple uses in senior living communities — both at forward-thinking communities and at residences taking advantage of new federal funding to purchase telecommunications services and technology.

A deployment of iPad devices has helped residents at Maplewood Senior Living enjoy video chats with relatives and virtual cocktail hours and birthday parties with their peers. The Connecticut organization upgraded its internet and Wi-Fi capabilities to fiber connectivity before the pandemic to support initiatives that include virtual reality, smart home devices and online education, according to Senior Housing News.

Preparation was also a priority for Thrive Senior Living, which uses video not only to support more telehealth efforts but also for residents’ independence. At Thrive’s Tribute at Black Hill community in Germantown, Md., newly added Alexa-enabled Echo Dot and Echo Show devices support audio and video chats. 

And a recent effort between CDW and Google helped outfit seven Merrill Gardens retirement communities in the Seattle area with 1,000 Google Nest Hub Max devices. The tools, whose interfaces were simplified by Google for this audience, support video calls with family and in-house activities such as playing virtual card games and trivia and streaming YouTube videos.

Don’t hesitate to survey your residents about their wants and pain points throughout your efforts. They may have a larger appetite for technology solutions than you previously thought.

Training Older Adults to Use Tablets and Video-Enabled Tools

Despite their benefits, these tools are only effective if recipients are trained to use them

Although many older adults are tech-savvy, one-third of people 65 and older do not use the internet, according to the Pew Research Center. And some mainstream consumer products aren’t designed with the limitations of older users in mind. 

Still, recent survey data from AARP finds that consumers over 50 are helping fuel the demand for smart home technology. Fifty-three percent of respondents say they would prefer to have their healthcare needs managed by a mix of medical staff and healthcare technology.

It’s critical, then, that in-house IT teams be prepared to teach residents the basics of a tablet or video-enabled device. (When circumstances improve, they might consider training skilled residents as “super users” to educate their peers, both in formal settings and for impromptu troubleshooting.) 

As you move forward, a specialized hotline is an option to help when hurdles arise. Volara and Candoo Tech, for example, offer phone-based tech support and other remote support options for older adults. 

Leaders must also ensure that Wi-Fi coverage spans an entire building, including individual rooms and apartments. Many communities have Wi-Fi coverage in common areas, but COVID-19 has limited residents’ ability to gather in those spaces. 

Finally, consider the importance of cleaning these devices — especially if they’re shared — and document security measures to protect users and data. Thrive prepared for lockdown by creating spreadsheets of residents’ Internet of Things devices, and it tests the tools twice daily. Other steps may include network segmentation and prohibiting outside devices.

Even if you’re not ready to launch a video-based program, the conversation can begin now. Although the technology is currently filling a critical void, it will hold just as much meaning to users after in-person visits and medical appointments can safely resume.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.


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