Human interaction is critical for our mental, emotional and physical well-being. In a 2015 meta-analysis of studies on loneliness, researchers found the following: living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5%; living with obesity, 20%; excessive drinking, 30%. But living with loneliness increases our odds of dying early by 45%. That’s more than twice the effect of obesity, which we know is a massive issue.

Social isolation is not a new problem, and older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness and hearing loss, according to a recent report. Combine this with COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns, and the issue becomes pretty dire. Many of you involved in residential care are living it daily, and the rest of us have read the articles and have seen the news videos and the parades of cars passing in front of residential and care facilities.

Technology is not one-size-fits-all in caregiving

Video conferencing technology and smartphones may keep many of us connected, but quite a few of  us, by choice or otherwise, are not exactly technology experts. I’ve been working in technology for more than 25 years, and my friends and I struggle every single week with audio and other assorted electronic issues with the video app we use to stay connected. Keeping up with the various disparate technologies can require a lot of time from busy care staff who could be attending to other important resident needs. I suspect many of you with teacher friends and colleagues are hearing of the same technology issues in virtual classrooms and learning pods during this surreal time.

It’s not uncommon for our older loved ones and care customers to struggle using a telephone or smartphone due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke or other conditions that may limit their ability to see, speak, hear, dial or push a button. Given we work in or around the field of caregiving, we are well aware of staffing issues and the developing care crisis.

Even before the pandemic, your care teams may have been bandwidth-compromised to try to set up a video call, and it’s often accompanied by frustrating connectivity issues. Care comes first, and that is what your care staff was hired for, not IT.  How can we reduce social isolation and loneliness to focus on more care while providing higher quality of life and satisfaction for residents? We do this with purpose-built technology to connect families.

Keeping care hands-on, and communication hands-free

Caregiving technology has been keeping loved ones and care residents safer for years through the use of lanyards and other assorted PERS devices and GPS trackers. Although useful, they aren’t usually providing families full communication and it’s not an automatic connection – pressing a button is required.

Many older adults still are active and “independent” and will not wear what they consider a medical-looking device. Some people cannot physically push a button. Thankfully, new technology is available to enable older adults to live in their home of choice, assisted living and other residential care settings while keeping them connected to their family caregivers, too.

New cellular wristwatch-style wearables — purpose-built without too many confusing, expensive and unneeded bells and whistles — are available today to connect residents directly to their families. No assistance is needed from your care staff, as family members can simply tap an icon on their smartphone app and instantly be connected to their loved one through a touchless audio interface on the wearable.

Family members across town and across country are using this to stay connected, without the involvement of busy care staff, who are freed up to focus on care and not setting up technology. The audio is clear and can be wirelessly connected to hearing aids for those who have hearing loss.

The ability to connect with family, anytime, is helping to reduce social isolation.

Keep it simple, but make sure it will go the distance

When assessing technology, the ability to use it throughout the care journey is important for several reasons. as it provides investment protection. Older adults can start using wearable remote activity monitoring and communications technology anytime they are ready or it’s needed. If they move into assisted living and other care environments, it can move with them.

Anyone connecting with the wearable – family and even trusted care staff – can remotely monitor them to see where they are, check their activity levels, receive wandering alerts and importantly have the ability to check in anytime via the wearable, including touchlessly if the wearer can’t push a button. Chronic illnesses require more care over time, so it’s important to know if a solution is scalable and able to add more clinical and non-clinical care technology as needed. Ideally, additional technology should be able to share the same cloud for information analytics, even the same easy to understand dashboard for information.

Technology will continue to improve the way we provide care across all stages of the care continuum. But in the time of COVID-19, it’s good to know that there are solutions today that can help loved ones and residents stay connected to family, reducing social isolation and enable busy care staff to focus on residents and care.