Technology Can Brighten Seniors’ Lives

How digital engagement gives new purpose to residents, differentiates your business.

 By Ryan Novaczyk

Every senior citizen should live a life of purpose, on purpose, no matter their physical or cognitive condition. This is the vision that drives me every day as president of a senior living company.

But here’s the catch: Conventional, one-size-fits-all engagement activities leaves too many residents out of the equation, especially those experiencing memory loss, depression or a sense of isolation.

We needed a way to personalize engagement in our communities and break free of the status quo. Purposeful living, after all, means being empowered with choice and control over your own life. So, in December 2017, we began implementing senior-centered digital engagement technology throughout our communities in the Midwest.

The case for digital engagement

Many senior living communities have integrated technology programs into residents’ daily routines. Today’s technology can keep older adults connected, mentally active and physically safe. Arguably, those experiencing cognitive decline have the most to gain from adopting technology.

Digital engagement technology includes programming for physical and cognitive fitness, education, communication and social/spiritual activities — all of which can be tailored to each resident’s unique preferences and cognitive, physical and technical abilities.

Improved socialization and quality of life; enriched communication with family, friends and caregivers; enhanced independence; increased cognitive stimulation; and respect for individuality are just a few advantages of this type of technology.

In addition, engagement technology can decrease social isolation by facilitating enriched resident-staff interactions, as well as easier access to the world at large and to the residents’ families and long-time friends.

From a business perspective, providing communities with dignified, state-of-the art activities and therapy experiences, as well as creative and meaningful dementia-centered programming, differentiates communities in the marketplace.

The caregiver connection

Every day, caregivers and our life engagement team members ask, “How can I engage my residents today? What activity or conversational topic will interest them?” 

Hitting on the right answer is no easy feat, and typically not achieved for all residents via structured activities, like mall trips or teas. While these activities are appealing to some residents, others with physical and cognitive limitations may find them more stress-inducing than relaxing. 

Technology allows caregivers to provide an outlet for all dimensions of wellness — mind, body and spirit. 

We find that digital engagement tablets create unique opportunities for almost all of our residents. Currently, these devices house 4,000 pieces of content and applications; a true variety in scope from flight simulation to virtual travel portals to the ability to view satellite images of a childhood home. 

Content is personalized to the resident’s tastes, such as music playlists. Opening up access to music the resident actually likes and responds to is especially important for those with memory loss, for whom music can have a welcome calming effect.

Of particular note, the tablet includes an easy-to-use portal where families can upload information about a resident such as past careers, towns lived in, organizations the resident belonged to, photos and more. Using this content, caregivers can create a video montage from a program embedded in the tablet that other caregivers can access to have an immediate and multi-dimensional introduction to the resident. This not only helps staff more fully connect to residents, it also gives family members a cathartic way to tell their loved one’s story. The means to do either have not typically been possible, at least to such degree, with the traditional paper-based intake process. 

Implementation strategy

Seamlessly integrating any large-scale technology into the daily routines of residents and normal workflow of caregivers requires a strategy. Our plan includes rolling out more than 200 systems, including tablet and mobile touchscreen monitors, to 21 communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois, impacting nearly 2,000 residents.

We saw quite early the possibilities of digital engagement. As such, we took concerted measures to protect our investment and turn the technology’s promise into actual practice. 

We created an “Office of Transformation” to drive implementation and adoption. Our project management approach included “to do” lists, tactics, start and end dates, committees and change management to truly move the culture and the way we do things. 

Importantly, the Office of Transformation is working to set clear metrics for success. This takes time and thought to devise. We ultimately are moving towards time spent per day by the resident on passive versus active digital engagement. Higher scores will be assigned, for example, to activities such as using the flight simulator or engaging with family members via Skype. Lower scores will be assigned to tablet usage that involved little engagement on the part of the resident, such as sitting passively while being shown content by someone else. 

We believe these metrics set a high, but attainable standard for team members who are genuinely invested in our mission to help seniors live purposefully. 

On a related note, we put a similar onus on our technology provider. At our request, the company assigned us a customer service advocate, who spearheaded our training and continues to be our external resource. 

The impact has been resoundingly positive. Our residents now have new and intuitive ways to connect with caregivers and loved ones, revitalizing their days with new meaning and energy.

All of these efforts have given us institutional knowledge of digital engagement — those best practices that help our residents and staff get the most out of the technology, and our organization get the most from our investment. 

The most important end result is that ad hoc engagement can now take place at any point of the day between residents and staff and family members. Indeed, these digital tools create far more opportunities for engagement than the traditional activities calendar, helping us personalize at scale and in the moment of what a resident truly needs to live with renewed purpose. 

Ryan Novaczyk is president and CFO of New Perspective Senior Living, a family-owned company that develops, owns and operates 21 senior living communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.