The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the dangers of living as an older adult in the United States: healthcare professionals were significantly more likely to withhold life-sustaining treatments for older adults.
What’s more, when digital interactions became the only option for engaging with friends and family, those without access to – or familiarity with – digital platforms found themselves largely isolated.
With the 65-plus population projected to surge through 2030, it will become more important than ever to actively work to combat ageism. Senior living leaders are particularly well positioned to do so. Here, I’ll explain how adopting senior-friendly technology in residential communities can help combat the effects of our society’s ageism.
The High Cost of Low Tech
A 2019 report by Pew Research found that while 96 percent of young people own a smartphone, just 61 percent in adults 65 and over do. That means that during the pandemic, nearly 40 percent of seniors likely struggled to connect with loved ones they didn’t live with.
For those who lived alone, the implications are bleak.
Far from being merely unpleasant, isolation has serious negative impacts on older adults’ health. According to a study conducted by the National Academies of Science, social isolation causes a 50 percent increase in the risk of dementia.
Among heart failure patients, isolation worsens outcomes on almost every front. It’s associated with a…
- 400 percent increase in the risk of death.
- 68 percent increase in the risk of hospitalization.
- 57 percent increase in the risk of emergency department visits.
And while social isolation worsened during the pandemic, it won’t disappear when the pandemic is behind us. Isolation – and the devastating health impacts it has – can affect seniors at any time. Hearing loss, distance from family, and even adjusting to a new community can all lead to feelings of isolation.
The positive side of this, of course, is that senior living leaders can reduce isolation and its effects by adopting tech solutions that connect seniors with their loved ones. Crucially, these solutions should be senior-friendly and communities should be prepared to guide residents through adoption. Let’s look at two examples.
Accessible Healthcare Technology Benefits Seniors
There was a 700 percent increase in telehealth usage from 2019 to 2020 in adults 65 and over, largely because of the pandemic. Importantly, the portion of that group comfortable with such technologies grew by 21 percent in the same time.
For populations with mobility issues, populations in rural areas, and populations considered medically fragile, supplementing existing healthcare with telehealth can provide significant positive outcomes.
The implications for mental healthcare are also exciting.
But telehealth services aren’t the only tech that can improve seniors’ lives and help limit isolation. Senior community leaders can also incorporate more senior-friendly technologies in their communities’ day-to-day operations.
For example, voice-operated smart devices like the Amazon Alexa can help older adults stay connected easily, because they don’t require any technological savvy to use.
Other examples include digital calendar systems that broadcast to residents’ rooms, videoconferencing to bring popular speakers a community might otherwise be able to book, and VR applications that let seniors enjoy experiences that are otherwise inaccessible to them.
Senior-Friendly Technologies Boost Occupancy
The benefits of accessible healthcare technology for seniors’ health and wellness are clear. But there are additional benefits for the business side of senior living communities.
Key among them is the effect on employee satisfaction. Communities that adopt tech solutions can expect to attract younger, more tech-savvy workers and keep all employees happier and more engaged – key in an industry where turnover can reach 75 percent.
But the benefits of tech don’t end with the workforce. Families of prospective residents, who play a huge role in deciding where their loved ones move, want more tech.
In fact, 87 percent of Senior Housing News (SHN) members said they expect their organizations to increase their technology budgets in 2021, following pressure from families to innovate. This pressure cannot be understated. Families recognize the pain their loved ones suffered as a result of social isolation this past year and want to avoid it at all costs in the future.
Senior living leaders should look for tech that lets families connect not just with their loved ones but also with community staff – a feature that’s particularly important for the families of those in assisted living and memory care.
Fighting Ageism Is a Continuous Battle
The digital healthcare market is expected to reach over $600 billion by 2025. To ensure the nation’s oldest residents benefit from the innovation this number represents, senior living leaders must actively seek out, advocate for, and implement solutions that address the unique needs of the senior population.
As innovators come to see the market power seniors and senior living communities represent, they will increase their investments in senior-friendly tech. The result will be a healthier, happier population.
Author Bio: Fahad Aziz is the co-founder and chief technology officer at Caremerge, a software platform that connects senior living residents with staff and family members. In 2012, he launched Caremerge and, since then, the company has served 550 communities with over 100,000 residents.