As baby boomers begin to replace the older silent generation in senior housing communities, technology access is becoming a basic amenity.
That’s as today’s senior embraces cell phones, the internet, and a world where technology makes things easier.
Pew Research Center tracked 65 and older adults in 2013 and found 77% used cell phones and nearly 60% went online. Nearly half had high-speed broadband connections at home. As one might guess, technology use was highest among the youngest seniors (the age ranges that baby boomers are inching into) and lowest among the 80 and older crowd.
Sure, the barriers to technology use still exist. Among those: physical challenges that keep seniors from using cell phones and computers; skepticism about taking the technology plunge and difficulties with learning how to use it, according to Pew Research.
Regardless, most seniors who delve into the online world visit it often—usually daily.
Seniors use tech to communicate, connect
Anita Kamiel, a nurse and home health care agency owner, reported on the hot trends of internet and social media use among the elderly in on HuffingtonPost.com in a blog post updated March 8, 2017.
For seniors, their increasing technology use seems to counteract decreasing independence and the potential for isolation. They use technology to connect with loved ones, friends and others who share their concerns or interests or who can answer their questions. As they become older and more housebound, the internet will likely take a bigger role in helping people to maintain a connection to the outside world—even though they can’t physically get there. In fact, researchers have found the internet use helps reduce isolation, loneliness, and symptoms of depression, according to HuffingtonPost.com.
They use online resources for information and education about health issues, current events and more. The internet allows them to virtually travel and check on book reviews. Especially Facebooking and Skyping are popular among the senior set, Kamiel wrote.
Universities and groups, including AARP, are tapping into seniors’ desires to learn about computers by giving them access to classes and programs, according to Kamiel.
What it means to senior living communities
It means tech-savvy baby boomers will increasingly expect and demand amenities like Wi-Fi and more. The problem is retrofitting older communities with technology isn’t necessarily easy.
Alana Stramowski wrote an article published March 30, 2017, in Senior Housing News that making the transition is especially difficult now when some of the residents don’t want anything to do with technology and others demand it.
According to Stramowski’s article, some communities are testing smart apartments to determine which tech options are important and which aren’t. Motion sensors that trigger lights at night and voice controls to ask for help, as well as adjust temperature and lighting, were among the smart home features being tested.
While the research is ongoing, early findings include that residents don’t particularly like smart features such as being able to open a door without getting up from a chair. One community tested a robot—a cool idea that didn’t get off the ground because residents didn’t know how to use it.
The point is, according to Stramowski’s article, that the goal shouldn’t be to implement technology for technology’s sake. It’s more to include technology features that will make residents want to be in senior living communities–not have to be in these communities.
Even virtual reality headsets, which still seem to be making their way into the mainstream, can offer benefits in the senior housing space, according to a piece written by Mary Kate Nelson and published March 27, 2017, on SeniorHousingNews.com. Nelson cites the example of Rendever Health, a startup by Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students. The company is developing virtual reality software specifically for use in assisted living communities. By wearing the goggles in the comfort of their homes, seniors can virtually travel to their bucket list destinations or explore the street on which they grew up. Some senior housing providers have adopted Rendever’s service, while others have tried virtual reality technology without Rendever’s help, according to Nelson.
According to the article, seniors of all mental, thinking, and reasoning abilities enjoy virtual reality experiences. Seniors should try the technology under supervision because it can cause motion sickness if one doesn’t use it correctly, Nelson wrote.
Like other technology experiences, including online social networking, virtual reality appears to have positive ripple effects, sparking conversations, helping people feel less dependent, and more.