While many people may associate high-tech gadgets with young people, Baby Boomers are also increasingly tech-savvy. Many of the latest technology trends are now being implemented to assist senior living and care facilities. Another factor driving more use of technology trends in senior living is that Baby Boomers expect much more out of the experience than their predecessors did.
Technology trends and the overall economy have changed significantly over the last decade. Ten years ago, we were in the middle of a recession; unemployment was at 7.6% and skilled nursing occupancy was almost 90%. The Affordable Care Act was still making its way through Congress.
Now, senior living organizations are struggling to fill vacant positions. The dynamic healthcare environment and payment reform trends have redefined healthcare, skilled nursing and senior living. More technology is now being adopted to assist seniors.
The senior population and their challenges
A study by the Centers for Disease Control of seniors living in 2,302 residential care facilities revealed interesting statistics. The data provides evidence of a crucial touchpoint in the concept design for assisted living projects. Here are a few excerpts:
- Of the residents, 70% were women and about 54% were 85 or older.
- The median length of stay was 671 days.
- The mean national monthly charge a resident paid was about $3,165, and Medicaid paid (some) in at least 19% of the cases.
- More than a third of residents needed assistance with three or more activities of daily living, including 72% who needed help bathing.
- The two most prevalent chronic conditions in elderly residential areas were high blood pressure (57%) and Alzheimer’s (42%).
With these kinds of stats, there is clearly a need for specialized expertise in dealing with older residents. Who would have imagined that more than half the population in senior living communities would be over 85 and not in their 60s and 70s? The Baby Boomers (in their 60s and 70s) have delayed moving from their personal residences to senior living communities due to economic reasons or their own preferences.
Measures such as home health, home care, more aging friendly home design and greater emphasis on exercise and diet have facilitated aging in place; consequently, more residents entering senior communities are older and frailer. This trend is likely to continue.
The data is eye-opening about the designs that need to be put in place to make senior living more equipped to meet the evolving needs of their residents. With studies revealing that 72% of residents need bathing assistance, there is a need for safety-conscious bathroom design. In addition, 36% of the population is expected to need toileting assistance. From these crucial pieces of data, it’s apparent that there is a need for highly specialized bathroom design.
The study also revealed that the median length of stay is 22 months. This underscores the need to implement aging-in-place protocols. Senior living communities must implement design and operational measures to ensure greater ability to handle increasing resident acuities. This will facilitate a more stable resident population and assist in averting a loss of residents to a hospital or skilled nursing admission.
Features such as gym equipment and exercise classes like yoga and aquatic therapy can be attractive to an older adult population that is health conscious and active. Multiple smaller public spaces that have the ability to be utilized for a variety of purposes adds flexibility for senior living communities to address the varying needs and desires of their resident population. Therapy and medical components provide much-needed assistance for residents to age in place.
An estimated 5.4 million Americans, 42% of seniors, have Alzheimer’s disease, a number that’s expected to reach 16 million by 2050. In total, 5.2 million are over 65. This cohort is growing, and it will affect senior living projects. With this growing population, there will continue to be need for dedicated memory care units which specifically address the unique needs of Alzheimer’s residents.
The need for new technology in senior living
When we mention technology, you may think of smartphones, interactive TVs and the fitness monitors on our wrists. It is more than that. Advances in technology for senior living are more focused on improving quality of life, providing data that enhances housing and developing personal devices that give seniors more control over their environment.
The data collected from such technology is crucial for caregivers. Investors understand that meeting the needs of older residents is vital to a lucrative operation. They know that it is more than placing a wristband on a senior resident and automating the lights in their room. The technology in senior living spaces can make the difference in enhancing their business outcomes and improving resident care.
One of the most compelling issues in the senior living industry (and healthcare in general) is staffing. Staffing is a major component of a community’s operating expenses and it is the backbone for the services provided. Technology can serve to make staff more effective and efficient. Technology can facilitate resident care and allow communities to promote better aging in place and better resident care outcomes.
Technology trends in senior living
The goal of technology trends for senior living is not just to monitor residents’ behavior, but to predict what they will do and possibly tailor the care to that expected behavior. Technologies are not a mere add-on to care delivery in senior living communities. They are the next iteration of resident-centered care.
Wearables are touch-and-feel technologies that revolutionize senior care in the same way they do in the general population. This type of senior living technology trend is defined by its primary user: the resident or staff. Devices include tablets, interactive TVs, virtual reality systems and artificial intelligence-enabled PAs such as Amazon’s Alexa.
The staff also has technologies that focus on monitoring systems, including bracelets and radio frequency identification chips (RFID). Some of these technologies give insights into resident’s health and sleep patterns.
Research has shown that for a senior who is predisposed to falling, a night of inadequate sleep can increase fall risk by 40%. Wearable technology can play a significant role and helps a great deal by predicting when an acute episodes might happen. Wearable devices around the world has grown at a steady rate. About 260 million devices were in use in 2016, and that is projected to reach 506 million by 2021.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Wearables fall under the broader category of the Internet of Things. The IoT is made up of web-connected physical items that send and receive data. They include televisions, activity trackers, smartphones, tablets and lighting systems. The IoT gives residents control over their physical environment in addition to generating data that helps caregivers predict care needs.
Communities must, however, be proactive to ensure the maximum value of IoT. The pace of change in technology is substantial and it is likely faster than the ability of senior living communities to adapt functionally to these changes.
For the most part, IoT was not designed for senior living communities or older adults. But, with an increasing older population and a recognition by manufacturers of this, there are more IoT products and services addressing the particular needs of senior living communities and their residents.
A 2016 study of the Pew Research Center revealed the following:
- 90% of Americans have devices connected to the internet.
- 84% of households have a smartphone, with a median of two per household.
- 80% of households have a computer.
- 68% have a tablet.
- 39% have streaming media devices.
The benefits of wearables and the IoT for the resident include improved safety, better aging in place and general well-being.
Telemedicine is an increasingly popular way to keep residents healthier. One senior living community has chosen to embrace this technology and has taken the following initiatives in four critical areas:
- Videoconferencing health education to allow healthcare providers to speak simultaneously with seniors.
- Using remote patient monitoring and giving seniors access to data like their weight, blood sugar and blood pressure.
- Promoting computer and health literacy and enabling seniors to educate themselves about healthcare and become more comfortable with web research.
- Participating in teleconsultations that limit the number of trips seniors make to healthcare providers.
Telemedicine is one of the next frontiers in the delivery of healthcare for seniors.
Another common thread in wearables, IoT and telemedicine is voice technology. Voice activation is another tech trend that enables the resident to communicate with devices such as the television. The resident can switch on the lights and adjust the TV through these devices. These tools empower the resident and provide control that can enhance the resident experience in a community.
Security and privacy
With all these senior living technology trends, there will be a dire need for data privacy and identity protection. Measures to provide greater security for residents and facilities are already in play.
Systems with sophisticated firewalls, mobile device management, endpoint solution systems and a mix of email spam filters are in use across senior living communities. Solutions for physical security, such as an automated passkey for exterior doors and RFID chips in wearables, are also being implemented to ensure the safety of residents.
The trends continue to evolve, and some senior living facilities are in catch-up mode. While some of the tech is still new, tech giants continue to explore this field. The number of voice-activated technologies continues to increase, leading to increased comfort among users. Some of the giants looking for solutions in voice activation technology include Google, Microsoft and Amazon.
Evolving technology aimed at older adults and senior living communities will become more prevalent. These technologies will serve to help assisted living communities make their staff more effective and efficient, allow their residents to better age in place and enhance their residents’ experience.