Technology can help combat isolation in senior living.
By Fahad Aziz, Caremerge
People of all ages are struggling to socialize and keep in touch with loved ones during COVID-19 lockdowns. For older Americans, social isolation can be especially dangerous: loneliness is linked with higher rates of heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression and anxiety.
The good news is that digital platforms can help stave off the negative impacts of social isolation. As the world turns to technology to stay connected, senior living communities should follow suit.
We must keep residents happy, healthy and engaged, pandemic or no pandemic.
Introduce online life enrichment programs
While many in-person events are on hold, senior living communities can offer virtual programming. This allows residents to continue to do the things they enjoy most from the safety of their rooms.
Activities or life enrichment directors can organize a range of fitness, entertainment, religious and other activities for residents through in-room TVs and personal device streaming. Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom give directors the ability to host large events online, and calendar portals can keep residents updated on everything that’s happening in the community.
John Knox Village, an independent living community in Pompano Beach, Florida, has successfully moved nearly all of its life enrichment programming online during COVID-19 through a community engagement platform. John Knox Village’s virtual events calendar includes:
- Fitness class live streams
- TED Talks
- Happy hours
- Book clubs
- Birthday parties
- Museum tours
This innovative programming opens up access to residents who may have been unable to attend events due to mobility issues or illness.
Empower residents to connect with friends and family
Senior living communities can also give residents the opportunity to connect online outside of scheduled activities. There are two great ways to do this:
- Help set up video conferences between residents and their loved ones.
Video conferencing is emerging as a popular way to do this among senior living residents. According to Buckner Retirement Services’ resident survey, while 55 percent admitted they had never used video chat technology prior to shelter-in-place orders, 52 percent said they plan to continue using the technology beyond the pandemic.
One-on-one, face-to-face communication can be especially comforting to worried family members who are eager to talk to their loved ones. Community staff can guide residents in setting up video calls with friends and family. With a communication tool, staff can easily schedule and manage a high volume of residents’ video appointments.
- Encourage residents to connect through social media, whether that’s Facebook or an internal community portal.
Another way is to provide residents with a community social network so they can share what they’ve been doing and see what friends are up to. Although about 48 percent of adults over the age of 65 regularly use major social media sites, a community portal can give residents the chance to bond with other residents over community-specific happenings.
Invite younger volunteers to be virtual companions
Lockdowns don’t mean that older adults in senior living communities can’t continue to make new friends of any age. Since cities in the U.S. began to issue stay-at-home orders, a number of programs have sprung up that enable younger people to share inspiring messages and chat virtually with seniors.
- Papa Pals pairs older adults with younger people to provide companionship and assistance in everyday tasks, which they can now do via video calls.
- Mon Ami recently set up a volunteer phone bank to support older people isolated by shelter-in-place orders. Companions can do things like read books aloud or lead gentle movement exercises.
- Live a Dream collects video montages from people of all ages in the hopes of brightening a senior’s day through jokes, musical performances and words of encouragement.
As residents and staff get accustomed to digital engagement, you can expect to see more creative ways to connect entering the market to help support seniors living in isolation.
Create a sense of community through digital engagement
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced unprecedented challenges to the senior living industry. But if there’s a silver lining of the safety measures put in place to prevent the spread of the disease, it’s that community leaders have found new ways for their residents to connect with friends, family and even strangers.
Senior living communities looking to ensure their residents’ well-being during this crisis should explore new and existing technology platforms to create a sense of community, safely and remotely.
Fahad Aziz is the co-founder and chief technology officer at Caremerge, a software platform that connects senior living residents with staff and family members.