Tech and seniors: Been there, done that — or have you?

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F. Scott Moody
F. Scott Moody

In my first blog post a few weeks ago, I spoke of the transition of senior care from the old nursing home model that had the look and feel of something akin to an “institution” to a more hospitality-oriented environment that often can look more like a resort. Despite all these physical plant advances, however, communities generally are devoid of the technologies that would help achieve the very same objective: a great consumer experience.

That is all about to change, but it starts with how we think about seniors and technology.

Probably the biggest roadblock to the introduction of new consumer-oriented technologies for seniors is the somewhat prevailing assumption that seniors don't like technology, or are even afraid of it. Yet, the issue is not the seniors themselves, but poor design and, frankly, designers who tend to “geek out” on the technology itself or what they personally like. Left behind is the end user, the senior, who often is stuck trying to use something that was designed to meet the needs of some millennial.

Heck, I'd make the argument that it was my generation (I was born in 1957) and the generation before mine that designed many of the core technologies that today's software developers are writing apps on top of now. As a case in point, the founders of Intel were born in 1929 and 1936, and Steve Jobs (Apple), Eric Schmitt (Google) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) all were born in 1955. Fact is that seniors have “been there and done that.” And so I propose that it is not seniors who are “afraid” of technology, but that often the technologies they are expected to use, borrowing a common tech-oriented term, “suck.”

In reality, no one likes technology; people inherently just like the outcomes that technology provides. Take for example my three daughters, all of whom live on their iPhones. They use lots of the popular apps, including Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Uber, yet I never have heard one of them talk about the foundational technology, or even the idea that they “like” technology. They simply like the app for the value it brings to their lives. And why shouldn't they? They're in the sweet spot of many designers' target demographic.

Give that same phone to their grandmother, with those little hard-to-see icons, and tell her about there being a million apps, none which seem designed for her, and, well, who wouldn't hate technology? Their grandmother doesn't wear the same clothes as her granddaughters, but that doesn't mean she hates clothes and runs around naked all day (for which we are grateful).

Are there individual seniors who don't want to use anything new? Sure, but that can be said of any generation. Lots of millennials don't use Facebook, and yet you don't hear others claiming that younger generations hate technology.

Recently, in a conversation about a specific product, someone told me that they estimated that “only” 60% of their assisted living residents would likely use it on the first day, and then they quickly highlighted the one resident who never wanted anything new. And all I could think was, “60%, Wow!” Can you imagine any product that would have a 60% acceptance rate on the very first day? I surely can't. The bottom line is, we have to stop making excuses, blaming poor design on the users. We must throw away the perception that seniors are technologically ignorant.

As the physical attributes of senior communities advance and become more “consumer-” versus “patient-”oriented, the technologic amenities used in communities also must advance to meet the needs and expectations of residents and their families. In the past, the technologies seen in the old-style “nursing homes” were minimalistic and included only what was required by law; and when it comes to technology, that is often what you still see. A profound opportunity exists now to integrate not only state-of-the-art healthcare technologies, but also technologies that will improve the daily lives — the consumer experience — of those who call these communities home. The feel of senior living communities now is to move beyond mandated systems and to more resident-focused, consumer-oriented products and systems.

So what does that all mean for senior living communities going forward? I'll explore that question in later blog posts, but know this: the focus must be on the residents, for if you make their lives better — I like to say “simpler, healthier and happier” — then good things will happen. If we can help make that happen, enabled by user-centric technologies, then everyone in the resident's ecosystem benefits — family, your staff and the company.

Apple did not get where it is today by focusing on “operational efficiencies.” Instead, it focused on user-centric design, creating something of value and doing it in a beautiful way. So, I ask: Why can't the same be true for senior living communities? And I'm not just talking about the buildings.

F. Scott Moody is the co-founder and CEO of K4Connect, a technology integration company with a goal of making lives simpler, healthier and happier for older adults and those living with disabilities. Moody previously co-founded AuthenTec, the company that developed the technologies now at the foundation of the Touch ID in Apple iOS products.

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