This is a true story.

Two new residents were sitting in the community game room, swapping turns on our flight simulator. Brand new to the community, neither had made many connections yet and had been spending most mealtimes — and free hours — alone. After a few rounds on the flight simulator, they began comparing notes on each others’ tactics and game strategy.

Fast forward half an hour and this game-related small talk had evolved to something much more: unlocked memories and a shared history. For these two, the simulator was more than just a game; it was a reminder of a past life, one with great significance, personal meaning and deep emotions for the both of them. Not only were both gentlemen World War II veterans who had seen active duty overseas, but both had specifically served in the Air Force. From that spark of shared history grew a fast and lasting friendship.

This story is a personal reminder of why we do what we do and is but one example of how magical senior living technology can be. To honor these two and the millions of other adults living and working in residential communities looking to explore, engage, connect and thrive, I’ll outline the three ways that senior living technology can truly take flight.

1. We’re in the midst of a tech-savvy shiftit’s time to lean in

It is becoming abundantly clear that when we design technology for community life, we need to consider not only the residents we’ll support today, but also those who will be arriving in the years to come. We already are seeing a marked shift in new residents’ preferences, comfort around technology and expectations for daily life.

Indeed, the shift already is happening, and adoption of technology by older adults is skyrocketing. According to the Pew Research Center, older Americans are rapidly closing the tech literacy gap: 61% of adults aged 65 or more years owned a smartphone in 2021, up from just 53% in 2012. And when on their phones, they are looking to remain connected: older adults’ use of social media platforms has grown about fourfold since 2010.

We are hearing from community leaders that staff members are having to pivot rather quickly to accommodate those new preferences. Whereas activity leaders were familiar with running group activities such as bingo and sing-alongs to the jukebox, now they are having new residents ask about adrenaline-pumping experiences, such as bungee jumping, and access to streaming platforms for movies on demand. It will be important to ensure that communities are agile enough to accommodate experiences across this broad spectrum of interest.

In the midst of this, it will be more important than ever to activate personalization, so that experiences truly can be tailored to what makes each resident, as a unique individual, tick. Technology will be central to this mission, as staff bandwidth already is alarmingly low.

To support existing staff members and help extend their bandwidth, senior living technology platforms will have to prioritize automation and efficiency. To support incoming residents’ new array of preferences, those solutions will need to be agile enough to offer a variety of engagement, development and enrichment modules without adding to caregivers’ cognitive load.

2. Embrace technology as a connective tissue for community life

Caregivers today are facing such a laundry list of challenges. From staffing shortages, burnout and turnover, to less than ideal occupancy rates, rising operational costs, privacy and safety concerns, and more, they need a robust technology suite comprehensive enough to support an agile array of use cases.

That’s why, when considering the future of the platform and new features or tools to build, our first thought is always, “How can we support stakeholders across the entire community?” Moving forward, we know that options and actionable use cases will be more important than ever.

Reflecting this new need, the role of technology within senior living is rapidly evolving to support an expansive set of use cases. In a recent, independently conducted market survey, we learned that community leaders expect their technology partners to offer a set of features that support overall community life: 84% of respondents with a comprehensive platform in place consider the technology “very” or “extremely” important. 

Senior living technology will continue to emerge as a critical foundation for community life. Not only will it help bridge the gaps between stakeholders, automate manual intake processes and enable highly personalized experiences, but it also will help everyone equally, working to deepen relationships between staff members, caregivers, residents and families alike.

3. Remember that in a tech-enabled world, safety takes on additional meaning

Resident safety is of the utmost importance, which is why innovation within digital safety will become a mounting priority for community leaders. Although tech use is up, scams specifically targeting older adults also are on the rise: In 2020, internet romance scams targeting older Americans claimed $139 million, up dramatically from $84 million the year before. (See this website also.)

As stewards of residents’ overall health and well-being, it is imperative to maintain trust and ensure that their information is secure. Within community life, best-in-class security systems will become an integral part of any enterprise technology platform to help shore residents against breaches of private data, ransomware attacks and internet scams.

Certain scams prey on states of well-being, such as loneliness and a desire for human connection. That’s why tech-enabled community experiences that are expansive enough to facilitate connection and engagement, while ensuring that cutting-edge cybersecurity and privacy controls block phishing attempts and protect sensitive personal information, will be able to support residents more holistically — both financially and emotionally.

This peace of mind not only will help caregivers and staff members feel more at ease,; prospective families also will come to expect that communities can not only support — but actively defend — the digital security of their loved ones.

What comes next: Technology takes off

From delightful experiences to staff support and personal security, technology will play an increasingly central role in senior living community daily life. As senior living technology takes flight, its evolution will help guarantee a new breadth of safe, thoughtful and highly personalized expansive experiences that enrich the lives of everyone.

Dylan Conley is chief technology officer at iN2L + LifeLoop.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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