Feb 16 2023

‘A Mindset Shift’: How Senior Care Communities Adapt to Modern Tech Expectations

Communities for older adults get upgraded infrastructure and resident-centered approaches as the demand for connectivity continues to rise.

Walk into a resident’s room at one of the 80 care communities for older adults operated by Ohio-based United Church Homes and you just might see an Xbox.

Glen Tibbitts, the organization’s ­corporate director of IT and HIPAA security officer, expects to see more ­connected devices in the coming years. And he’s preparing now.

“There’s definitely been a mindset shift,” Tibbitts says. “In preparation for the baby boomers, we realize that we have to deliver fiber to residents’ doorsteps and be way ahead of the competition. As the population continues to change, the speed requirements for individual rooms or apartments are going to be astronomical — I’ve heard up to 10 gigabits per room. We have to be ready for that.”

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Gaming consoles are still a rare sight in UCH communities, and the residents who have them use them primarily to entertain their grandchildren, Tibbitts says. But they help illustrate the way that connected devices, including smartphones, tablets, wearables and smart TVs, have proliferated inside care communities for older adults. Along with demographic shifts, adoption has been spurred in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted many seniors to turn to video collaboration to stay connected with their families.

Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging and Health Technology Watch, says care communities for older adults must “rise to the occasion” by providing pervasive high-speed wireless connectivity and delivering ongoing training and tech support for residents.

“People moving in are bringing their technology with them, and families expect to be able to communicate with the technology they already use,” Orlov says. “We all live in a world where doing banking, arranging transportation and ordering food all depend on the use of a smartphone or a tablet.”

EXPLORE: Four technologies to improve staff experiences in post-acute and senior care.

Technology Access Improves the Senior Care Experience

At the start of 2022, UCH upgraded its wireless infrastructure, installing 215 Cisco Meraki MR44 Wi-Fi 6 access points across the organization’s long-term care communities. “The deployment helped support our back-office operations, but more important, it provided that resident connection to the outside world to help fight isolation,” Tibbitts says.

UCH also rolled out 180 Apple iPad devices within a few days at the start of the pandemic, a move that Tibbitts calls a “game changer.”

“The pandemic brought monumental obstacles for our seniors, including difficulties accessing safe and secure visits with their physicians,” Tibbitts says. “With the use of the purchased iPad devices, UCH service coordinators were able to schedule virtual appointments for the residents and ensure they had access to their physicians, specialists and families.”

Chief Transformation and Innovation Officer Michael Hughes says senior care communities should involve residents in the selection of new IT solutions.

Glen Tibbitts

Glen Tibbitts, United Church Homes’ Corporate Director of IT and HIPAA Security Officer, says he’s noticed a “mindset shift” as residents’ expectations change. Photography by Leonardo Carrizo


“Otherwise, you’ll see people with a device that’s still in the box,” he says. “People will tend to engage with technology if they feel they have agency in the process. That’s really important.”

Looking ahead, UCH is piloting a number of clinical and lifestyle technologies, including a smart badge that transcribes the speech of employees and family members for deaf patients.

“It’s all about abundant life and abundant aging,” Tibbitts says. “We want to make the move to senior care a great transition for our residents, and we realize that we can do that with innovations in technology.”

From Technology Engagement to Adoption in Senior Care

When the pandemic spiked demand for connectivity in early 2020, Ingleside was ready.

The organization, which operates three communities for older adults in the Washington, D.C., area and also provides at-home care, upgraded its wireless infrastructure in 2019, installing new Cisco Meraki access points across its locations.

The number of residents using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to communicate with family members and friends “exploded” during the pandemic, according to Ingleside CIO Dusanka Delovska-Trajkova.

“The pandemic sped up everything,” Delovska-Trajkova says. “Technology was seen as a rescuer for people experiencing isolation.”

Ingleside conducts regular proactive engagements with residents to determine what technologies will best meet their needs and has even brought in researchers from universities to help optimize tech solutions for users. Several years ago, Ingleside leaders discovered that around 30 percent of their residents were largely unable to use touch-screen devices due to various health and mobility issues. Ingleside piloted the use of voice-activated digital assistants, but researchers determined that the tech was not yet mature enough to be useful to residents.

READ MORE: Understand the next level of technology in senior care.

Instead of using digital assistants, Ingleside worked with residents and researchers to revamp its resident engagement portal, making it easier for seniors to access information about things such as programming and dining options.

Perhaps just as important as the technology itself is Ingleside’s training program. Tech leaders trained 40 resident “ambassadors” on the new portal application; those residents then promoted the solution across the organization. Ingleside also has twice-weekly tech sessions where residents learn how to use tech tools from volunteers and from each other.

“In just a few weeks, we had more than 60 percent adoption of the new portal,” Delovska-Trajkova says. “The vendor called us thinking there was something wrong with their analytics tools, because they hadn’t seen that before. Now we’re close to 80 percent. Giving residents a way to express their opinions helped us to get that adoption, and we understand from talking with our vendors that those conversations haven’t always happened between residents and senior care providers.”

Older Adults' Use of Technology Is Growing

Laurel Mundell, director of administrative services at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Cypress Village, says that older adults moving into the communities in recent years are more tech savvy than previous generations. Many provide an email address as a form of contact when they move in, and the bulk of residents stated in a recent survey that they wanted to receive electronic communications along with printed materials.

“If we give them tech resources, they’re very likely to use them,” Mundell says. “What we’ve learned is that if we host these classes that focus on one fraction of the tech — something as simple as leaving a Google review — then they adopt the technology on their own. They have the attitude of, ‘If you just show me once, then I’m good.’”

Laurel Mundell
If we give [residents] tech resources, they’re very likely to use them ... They have the attitude of, ‘If you just show me once, then I’m good.’”

Laurel Mundell Director of Administrative Services, Cypress Village

Cypress Village offers services ranging from independent living to skilled nursing, and its 120-acre campus is home to more than 900 residents. Residents pay for internet connectivity in their own rooms, but there’s Wi-Fi in all common areas. Mundell says that many residents use the connectivity to listen to podcasts, make video calls to family and access the community’s mobile app.

In a 2021 survey, 60 percent of residents said they had downloaded the app, and Mundell suspects that number has since risen. The app allows residents to arrange shuttle transportation, make dining reservations and access the community’s YouTube channel.

Residents have even taken charge with their own efforts to spread tech through the community. In its skilled nursing unit, Cypress Village uses Samsung Galaxy tablets with the iN2L senior engagement app. One resident, whose wife has dementia, was so impressed with the tech that he arranged for other residents to buy their own tablets with pre-loaded software. Mundell estimates that about 50 residents purchased one.

Cypress Village leaders are continuing to look for ways to expand tech access for residents, and the organization recently applied for grant money that would pay for virtual reality headsets. “Once you make it convenient, then whatever the technology is, the residents are willing to take it on,” Mundell says.

DISCOVER: Trends affecting technology adoption in post-acute and senior care.

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