As a country, we are in the midst of a period of change with the largest segments of the population gracefully aging. America’s seniors largely fall into what is referred to as the Silent Generation or those born during the period of the 1920s through the mid-1940s. This group expects high quality of care and the senior services industry has modeled their service offerings and care philosophy to align with their expectations. The Baby Boomers still represent the country’s largest and most powerful generation due to both size and purchasing power. They bring with them different expectations for the care of their elderly parents and someday for themselves. Desiring a more meaningful experience, Boomers expect care and convenience accompanied by entertainment and technology in any senior living environment. As the majority of our senior population continues to grow, people are living longer and have additional years to enjoy in their retirement “golden years.” Remaining connected to the outside world is made easier by technology. This week is National Assisted Living Week (NALW), an annual observance that encourages assisted living communities to offer activities to celebrate and educate residents, families, staff and volunteers on the role they play in caring for residents. This year’s theme is “Keep Connected” and highlights the important role technology can play in enhancing the care experience. Here are three ways technology is helping to keep seniors connected:
Social media use by seniors continues to rise as they represent the fastest growing segment. Thanks to their growing internet savvy, more and more mature adults are turning to social media for information and communication with family and friends. In fact, many use this technology to reconnect with people from their past, find and research healthcare information, and enjoy more frequent connections with extended family and friends. Pew Research shows that social media use by Americans 65+ has more than tripled since 2010, jumping from 11% to 35% at the end of 2015. While many are surfing Facebook, the most popular social networking site, they are engaging in enriching communication sharing photos, watching videos, and enjoying real-time online conversations with people of all generations. Social media is also recognized as a key technology and offering by senior care providers with many organizations offering educational classes to residents encouraging them to connect, engage and enjoy the social web.
Telemedicine is a growing transformative approach in healthcare that enables seniors to stay in their homes longer with a variety of virtual medical diagnostics. A two-way exchange between seniors and providers is enabled through wireless tools, two-way video and smart phone apps to stay connected and monitor. There is now a wide array of technology providers in this field who offer video consultation, wireless in-home monitoring for prescription adherence and mobile telemedicine kits for initial exams. For example, one handheld kit integrates with a tablet or computer empowering a patient to conduct an initial exam with virtual guidance from the healthcare provider. All of this innovative technology is keeping seniors connected in a valuable way—more convenient and timely healthcare and often enabling them to do so in the comfort of their own homes. A recent demonstration project by the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) revealed significant economic benefits for the healthcare system through house calls. Older adults and those suffering with chronic illnesses are benefiting from these visits where medical technology is brought into their homes. This convenient and cost-effective in-home care is saving billions of dollars by reducing or delaying hospital and nursing home admissions and keeping patients in the comfort of their own home.
Music & Memory
The power of music on the human brain is amazing. Senior living providers are embracing music as a transformative tool for memory impaired residents, helping them to rekindle dormant memories and reconnect with the outside world. One nationally accredited program called MUSIC & MEMORY℠ brings music into the lives of seniors with cognitive disorders offering caregiver training for music therapy applications and family resources. Rooted in extensive neuroscience research, the program is delivered through the development of a personalized playlist using iPods. The soothing music of old familiar favorites, reconnects patients with their past, triggering memories resulting in new outward expression and communication with their surroundings. To see just how this works, watch a patient named Henry in “Alive Inside”—and prepared to be moved.
We live in an interconnected and increasingly integrated world largely driven by technology. While technology will never replace direct face to face interaction, we can expect it to continue to play an increasingly important role in healthcare, convenience and communication. In the years ahead it will be interesting to see what new technologies will emerge to further enhance how seniors stay connected.