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Five Consumer Technologies Needed for Every Senior Home or Housing Unit

Laurie Orlov, SP Advisory Board
Courtesy of Laurie Orlov

By Laurie Orlov

Overcoming tech inertia in senior housing. Senior Housing News interviewed Andrew Carle, founder of George Mason University's senior housing administrator program. When questioned on the benefits of using labor saving technology. He felt compelled to suggest that technology was both an opportunity and a threat. He goes on to state that we cannot control the treat so we should pursue the opportunities. It is interesting that few seem to be going after the opportunities.

Now then, is the low penetration of the available technologies more about inertia on the part of management or lack of insistence by families who are fearful of making waves? Residents and families would be able to participate in a richer living experience if senior housing organizations overcame their inertia and offered the following five technologies. These technologies are also valid for seniors aging in place in their own home or yours.

  1. High speed Internet access for all. So here's a question: do you think that the oldest residents in your communities need to be online? Is your senior housing organization waiting for others in the industry to lead the way towards this being a must-have versus a nice-to-have technology? Do all of the residents in independent, assisted living, and nursing homes know how to sign up? Do they have a tablet, PC or MAC in their own rooms/apartments/homes? Do they have to visit the common areas in order to send an email? If they brought their own laptops, would there be a wireless network or an enabled Internet jack available in their own spaces, just the way they can connect their own TV when they move in?
  2. Support for video and Skype. What are senior-housing operators offering to connect the generations in your resident's family? Do they help residents participate with family via video? If a family member wants to contact them via Skype at holiday time, how likely is it that someone is around who can help with setting up a Skype ID, getting them started, dialing and receiving a call? Is there anyone available on Sundays to help? Does the organization feature high speed Internet access on a brochure and website? Do they lack the staff to make it work for individual residents or must families help out?
  3. Mobile Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and Global Positioning System locators. Is your senior residence investigating the transition from stationary PERS to mobile technology? Do the majority of residents have PERS pendants? If they do, what happens if they stray beyond the distance zone specified by the vendor, typically a maximum of 600 feet? Lets say they get into a car or bus with their pendant and head to a local community center and thus get out of range? Are the pendants left on the bedside table while the resident goes on a trip to the mall? Mobile PERS technology is out there - MobileHelp and GreatCall have it now. Verizon and LifeComm will have it later this year, and PERS apps are available now for smart phones.
  4. Medication Dispensing. Is the “wellness” nurse occupied nearly full time with record-keeping about medications dispensed, searching for residents, recording dosages, putting back paper charts and medications before moving on to the next? Is this really what the nurse should be spending her time on? Should the nurse spend much of her time behind a glass wall and surrounded by paper? There are ways to introduce just teeny-tiny bits of technology into this process. This includes pre-loaded (weekly) canisters/containers for each resident that can offer up reminders for the appropriate medication dose. Couldn't these devices link back to a resident record that the dose was taken?
  5. E-readers (Kindle, Nook, or other) or e-reader app in a shared kiosk. Maybe every resident's family will buy one of these for Christmas, but if not, why not set up several e-readers in a well-lit common area with books preloaded? Or use a free e-reader app in a shared PC area. Some organizations even have “library” type sitting rooms. Could you consider that the residents or a staffer can join a local library, “borrow” an audio book online, download it to a PC or other device, and play a very entertaining audio book?

These five relatively simple technologies provide seniors with a richer living experience as they age in place at home, with family or in a senior housing community. Senior housing organizations and families can enhance senior living by overcoming the technology inertia and implementing these pro-senior technologies.

Published March 7, 2012

Laurie Orlov blogs on Aging In Place Technology Watch

Comment from LinkedIn Group Member
Group: Assisted Living Professionals
Discussion: What simple technology can we give seniors now to enrich aging at home?

Well, having been a network administrator for nine years at an ASL/IND provider I could only fall out of my seat reading this statement in the conclusion:

"These five relatively simple technologies"

Yeah, simple... IMHO these are pretty high end services.

1) If the building wasn't built with all these capabilities from the start you're talking about a very significant investment of time and resources to implement. And even if you have the I/T staff implement the infrastructure in the building to do this, training staff to maintain it is not easy. Very few buildings have their own I/T person. It's usually a "draftee" so-to-speak.

2) Again, the ongoing training for staff that would deal with these requests would be significant. There's a fair amount of turnover in the staff that would be on the front line of something like this, particularly for the evening shifts that would see the lion's share of the activity since that's when family would be at home to "Skype" with. And whether you want to train the family or not, you'll end up having to because video conferencing isn't common knowledge for adults.

3) I think pendants are becoming pretty standard when that level of care is necessary. No real comment here.

4) We always had applications to help manage this sort of thing, but the solutions are too expensive and most are technologically pretty old (written either late 90's or early 2000's which is old in software years...). We also had a good I/T staff to help support it when the vendors were slow to respond (I did all the training and implementation of AccuCare for the skilled nursing communities, not a vendor's trainer or nurse). Penetration of software in this area is still sorely needed. I've been working on a free solution for this since I left that position and now technology has caught up to my vision. The last few years I've been doing more and more software development with an eye towards solving this problem. This year I'm hopeful to get a high quality free solution in place. Had a lunch meeting with a nurse last week on this as a matter of fact.

5) Good luck keeping these devices from getting stolen. And best wishes training the staff on their use. And the I/T dept will certainly give you the stink eye for trying because it'll increase call volume and they'll almost certainly have to figure out how to account for the devices.

This isn't saying they aren't worthy goals. But in all honesty they're far from simple to actually implement.
Posted by Ron Grove

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