Staying Together, Virtually: The Benefits of Connected Technology for Seniors

Senior Using Smartphone

One of the great ironies of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we’re more physically isolated than ever ... yet, for many of us, we’re more connected than we have ever been. That’s good news, says Sean Ochester, Executive Vice President of Digital & Integrated Strategy at Sage Age Strategies. “Humans are social creatures by nature, and during a crisis, we look to each other and our relationships in order to help us through,” he says. “And thanks to a wide number of technologies available, we’re able to stay emotionally connected while social distancing. This is particularly good news for senior citizens – who, ironically, are most vulnerable to COVID-19 but are the ones who benefit the most from staying connected.”

 

Seniors, says Sean, are adopting technology at an incredibly fast rate – and were already doing so before COVID-19 made it more of a necessity. “Aging baby boomers are making waves in the technology field as more and more companies create new and useful items to help them continue living their lives,” says Sean. “We’re seeing everything from health monitoring options to medication management tools and more. But the most obvious and most beneficial technologies today are the ones that enable us to stay in touch with friends and family members when we can’t physically be with them.”

 

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, seniors (especially those with higher levels of education and disposable income) are using technology at a similar rate as young adults. 85% of seniors today own a cell phone, while 46% own a smartphone. 67% of adults ages 65 and older go online at least once a day. Why are these numbers so important? Because 40% of seniors report experiencing loneliness on a regular basis ... which has real implications on their health.

 

Here just some figures on the dangers of loneliness and social isolation:

  • Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation are as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • Seniors who are lonely are more likely to become depressed, stressed and anxious and also have a higher risk of developing dementia.
  • Loneliness has also been proven to increase chronic stress and inflammation, which results in a lowered immune system, making it harder for seniors to recover from common ailments.

 

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 25 percent of seniors lived alone and experienced isolation,” says Sean. “With social distancing guidelines the way they are, I imagine those statistics are much higher today. This means that adopting connective technologies is becoming essential for those in the senior living space. Social connection is an important part of whole-body wellness, and senior living communities will need to embrace and even demand innovation in order to best provide care and fulfillment to their residents and families.”

 

How Technology Connects (Even During COVID-19)

“We probably don’t need to tell you exactly how seniors can connect through technology,” says Sean. “Apps and devices like personal computers, tablets, cell phones, video chatting software and more are increasingly easy to use. In fact, many companies have released ‘senior-friendly’ devices that are geared to help the older population connect without all the bells and whistles.’”

 

GrandCARE, for example, is a senior-friendly and innovative platform that’s designed to be used in senior living communities (but there are also personal household options for those looking for senior family members who still live at home). Besides connecting senior residents to care staff, it also offers video chatting features, news apps, games and puzzles, links to video platforms and much, much more. It also provides telelink opportunities for doctor’s visits or other touch bases with medical professionals – making it easy for seniors to stay in touch with their physicians without having to risk leaving the house.

 

In a similar vein, voice assistants like Alexa or Siri can help seniors connect with the outside world without having to type…all they have to do is speak. By using their voices, seniors can have emails read to them, get news updates, order an Uber, get food delivered and so much more. According to one study, voice assistants act a bit like digital companions, which helps reduce feelings of loneliness.

 

Staying active is important to overall health, but since going to the gym isn’t possible or doesn’t seem safe, seniors can tune in to on-demand fitness videos and solutions that are tailored for their needs. Try J&J Official 7-Minute Workout, or the SilverSneakers program, which is available through participating Medicare programs.

 

What about another aspect of health – eating healthy foods? Well, luckily for seniors who don’t want to leave the house, food will now come to them. Apps like Instacart let seniors order from nearby grocery stories and have their purchases delivered to them – no more having to brave the crowds. Not in the mood to cook for yourself? Order from your favorite restaurants using

Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats, and within a short amount of time, you’ll receive a convenient, quick and delicious meal without having to leave the house.

 

We’d already mentioned virtual doctor’s visits – which are becoming an increasingly popular way to connect with doctors for prescription refills, mental health visits, preventative health screenings and more. Telehealth is quickly becoming the way of the future, which means good things for seniors who may not wish to travel to a germy, doctor-filled office.

 

Ultimately, the best form of connection that technology can help with is allowing friends and family members to see each other face-to-face – even if they can’t be in the same room. Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and other apps – even gaming ones like Words With Friends – allow for fun interaction anytime, anywhere…pandemic or not.

 

Another social connection tool is called GeriJoy. This touchscreen tablet was designed to help those with mild to moderate dementia receive caring support, conversation, emotional assistance and healthcare reminders. It features a dog or cat avatar that “chats” with the user (which is actually a remote team of human caregivers and advanced computer intelligence systems) to provide personalized, around-the-clock emotional support and real, stimulating social interactions. It’s a fantastic solution for family members who are far away from their loved one and can’t always check in on them every day (much like today during the coronavirus pandemic).

 

While social connection is of utmost importance, connection through technology also extends to medical response teams and other individuals who can help a senior as soon as possible if there’s an emergency or a need. Senior living communities often have emergency call pendants or wristbands that alert staff if there’s a need. Companies like MobileHelp and GreatCall have mobile protection options that work everywhere and alert a call center when assistance is needed. While these technologies don’t provide the social aspect of a friendly face, a personal visit or companionship, they are very real solutions to very real needs.

 

Sage Age Strategies: Bridging the Gap to Help Communities Connect

“As technology continues to become more sophisticated, we anticipate that senior living communities will find increasingly innovative ways to adapt technology into their offerings for residents and families,” says Sean. “At Sage Age Strategies, we make it our mission to stay on top of all the different technologies available and help our client-partners find ways to continually communicate and connect with their residents, leads, families and others.”

Sage Age Strategies is a multiple-award-winning, strategic growth, marketing and consulting organization that operates exclusively in the unique senior living marketplace. For more information, please call or email Melinda Schmitz at (816) 349-0464 or info@sageagestrategies.com. You can also visit us on our website at sageagestrategies.com.

 

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