When someone mentions advances in technology, the first things that come to mind are our smartphones, tablets, interactive TVs, digital assistants like Alexa or Siri, the fitness monitors we wear on our wrists, or those front-porch video apps that tell you someone’s at the door. But when experts in new senior housing developments think of technological advances, they cast a much wider net:
- How can data improve senior housing?
- How can technology improve the quality of life for someone in assisted living?
- How can personal devices give seniors more control over their environments?
The answers are important not only to senior care givers, but also to those investing in these properties who understand that meeting residents’ needs is a key to profitable operation.
“The Top 2018 Technology Trends that will Transform Senior Living” is a recently published white paper from CDW Healthcare, a technology company that focuses on needs in the health-care community, and Senior Housing News, a website that focuses on every aspect of the senior housing industry.
“Providers who differentiate themselves know that simply placing a wristband on a resident or automated lights in a room is not the end of the journey,” the report says. “Technology in the senior living space can enhance business outcomes by improving resident care, and the only way to achieve that is through the data the technology generates.”
The report explores five primary areas: wearables (any personal technology that can be worn or held); web-connected devices that can collect and receive data; “telemedicine,” an umbrella term for a number of types of remote health and medical services; voice activation of both personal devices and environmental surroundings; and cybersecurity. Many devices cross categories – a fitness monitor can also collect data about a resident’s sleep, for instance, which could help staff or remote medical resources improve the quality of that resident’s life.
5 Technology Trends Changing Senior Living
Here are some of the highlights of the report:
Trend No. 1: Wearables
Wearables include tracking bracelets, of course, but also things attached to, carried by, or worn on the body that can collect data: smart watches, glasses, jewelry, game controllers – anything that can send a constant, real-time stream of information back to a source, such as a radio-frequency chip embedded in fabric. Your smartphone is included in this category, but “wearable technology tends to be more sophisticated than hand-held technology on the market today,” says the website Wearable Devices. “It can provide sensory and scanning features not typically seen in mobile and laptop devices, such as biofeedback and tracking of physiological function.” In an assisted living situation, for instance, sleep patterns can clue the staff into which residents may be more fatigued and in danger of falling. Statista predicts that wearable devices will grow from 325 million in 2016 to 593 million in 2018 to 929 million in 2021.
Trend No. 2: The Internet of Things
The “Internet of Things,” or the “IoT,” is a shorthand phrase that refers to the mammoth network of connected devices sending information back and forth to the internet. This can include all the devices mentioned above, but also any device that has connective ability, even those not considered “smart”: your thermostat, refrigerator, coffee maker, DVR, Bluetooth headphones and so on. A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center said that 90 percent of American households contain at least one device capable of streaming information (most often a smartphone, but that in itself can hold apps that track everything from your air conditioning to door locks to boarding passes), and nearly 20 percent of homes contain 10 or more of these devices. In assisted living, a wearable like an activity tracker could send information to a resident’s lighting system that tells the system that the resident is up in the middle of the night, meaning lights need to be lower than in the daytime.
Trend No. 3: Telemedicine
The word “telemedicine” covers multiple ways in which technology can have an impact on a person’s health even when they aren’t physically in the presence of a doctor or nurse. Videoconferencing would allow health care professionals to speak to many seniors, together or separately; remote monitoring allows a doctor to stay in touch with a patient’s status through his or her bracelet data, and allows that patient greater access to their own information on such things as blood pressure or blood sugar; computer literacy helps seniors to educate themselves through internet research; and teleconsultations can take the place of some doctors’ visits. “This is the next frontier in the delivery of care,” says Davis Park, director of the Front Porch Center for Innovation & Wellbeing.
Trend No. 4: Voice activation
If you use Alexa, Siri, Google Home or even a television remote control that allows you to say which channel or program you want instead of punching numbers or scrolling the channel guide, you know what a game-changer voice activation can be. Now imagine that technology being available to a resident who uses a wheelchair or must stay in bed, allowing him or her to control the lights or television volume, or call for help just by speaking. “When someone moves to a senior living community, there is a sense that they are losing control over their environment,” says Moulay Elalamy, Vice President of Information Technology for Benchmark Senior Living. “If we can hand control back to them, that’s powerful.”
Trend No. 5: Security
It follows that with technology and data playing such an increasing part in the everyday lives of senior housing residents, cybersecurity is critical. In Sunrise Senior Living communities – there are 325 globally, with 30,000 residents – security includes spam filters, firewalls, mobile device management and pass-keys to exterior doors. Mike Summers, Sunrise’s Chief Information Officer, sees even more development of senior-living data security on the horizon.
For investors in senior housing, awareness of technology trends affecting the industry is critical. Charles Turner, the president of Houston-based Lifewell, believes that the sum is more than the total of devices, data and development. He says he often receives feedback from people who say they are choosing Lifewell based on how its technology will help care for their family member, which only confirms that the organization is moving in the right direction.