Aging adults have several options to choose from when they need support in their everyday lives, among them home healthcare, assisted living and continuing care retirement communities. For many, one question looms large: where can I age safely without sacrificing my independence?
The good news is that technology design now can help those who care for older adults in any care setting experience an independent life full of joy, dignity and wellbeing. This genre of technology and the lifestyle it enables is called Smart Aging.
Specifically, Smart Aging is an artificial intelligence solution that uses web, mobile and voice platforms to recommend targeted opportunities for social connection and personal enrichment. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this digital approach is particularly impactful, as it allows older adults to socialize and feel fulfilled virtually, from the safety of wherever they call home.
Here’s why providers across senior care markets must leverage this technology to empower older adults to live a more connected, healthier and independent life.
Smart aging tech boosts social connectedness
In the quest for healthier seniors, social wellbeing matters immensely, and it has a proven effect on health outcomes. Decades of research from Harvard Medical School show that sustaining meaningful relationships can reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life.
In a senior care program, the social nature of the community presents an opportunity for older adults to foster lasting connections. Every person has different social needs and different preferences, however, which can make it difficult for senior care leaders to engage all community members.
These leaders are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their social programming. Smart Aging technology makes it easier for them to create and execute engaging events that match older adults’ interests.
Digital platforms for community engagement can track event attendance and audience feedback surveys. AI can sort through those data to highlight which events have the highest approval and engagement and make recommendations for new or improved events. That way, community directors know what kinds of programming their community wants and enjoys.
During COVID-19 lockdowns, Smart Aging also can facilitate remote alternatives to in-person events, such as in-room workouts, meditation, virtual book clubs or happy hours. The Smart Aging feedback loop lets directors stay flexible in introducing new remote-friendly programming or systems that suit their residents’ preferences. Each time a resident watches a video or selects a playlist, he or she teaches the AI engine something new to make the experience more personalized.
Voice assistants make meaningful, personalized recommendations
Voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa are a favorable choice for older adult users thanks to their easy-to-use, natural language interface.
One of the primary benefits of this technology is that it can help strengthen older adults’ sense of social connectedness and independence, and it can be especially comforting for seniors who are quarantining and unable to see their friends and family members. According to a study from the AARP, talking to an Alexa every day actually can stave off loneliness.
As many senior living communities have discovered, voice assistants aren’t only good for simple question-and-answer interactions. They also leverage AI to get to know a user’s habits and preferences. This information helps them make meaningful recommendations for social activities and community events, and assistants later can incorporate feedback from users to make even better recommendations the next time.
For example, Alexa can access a community calendar and suggest that a resident attend virtual movie night tonight because Alexa knows that resident is a cinephile who wants to chat with fellow enthusiasts. As Alexa is integrated with attendance data, she can start recommending similar events each week.
Personal data help senior care providers create targeted wellness programs
Smart Aging design goes beyond increasing social wellbeing. These platforms allow community leaders to design programming that promotes independence by nurturing various dimensions of wellness, including physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Investing in wellness models benefits providers in a couple of ways:
- Wellness bolsters independence. According to the International Council on Active Aging, independent residents in a developed wellness program remained independent for 8.8 years compared with 6.1 years for all residents: a 2.7-year difference.
- Better wellness programming makes for healthier adults. This may seem like common sense, but we see this proven out in medical costs: senior living providers see $3 in returns for every dollar they spend on physical activity programming, according to the ICAA.
A Smart Aging solution also might be able to improve wellness by interpreting survey data. For example, it might discover that several religious residents feel they’re unable to connect with their community through faith-based events. To fill this gap, it might recommend introducing chaplain services.
This model also gives community leaders the opportunity to engage a broader audience. Care providers can expand their programming and invite nonresidents to participate, helping grow the community. This also allows prospective residents to build friendships with members of the community before they move in.
Smart aging technology enables more older adults to live independently, wherever they are
Smart Aging technology is an investment in better outcomes. For providers, Smart Aging platforms allow for improved resident engagement, longer length of stay, and overall community satisfaction. For older adults, this technology makes it easier than ever before to make social connections and establish fulfilling, active lifestyles, pandemic or no pandemic.
In the next decade, tech-savvy baby boomers will move toward retirement and search for ways to extend their independence. Smart Aging technology will give them the resources to live well for years and years to come.
Fahad Aziz is the co-founder and chief technology officer at Caremerge, a software solution platform that connects senior living residents with staff and family members. He got an opportunity to spend some time in a senior living community in the suburbs of Chicago, where he witnessed many challenges, so he decided to do something to solve those challenges. In 2012, he launched Caremerge, and the company now serves 450 communities with more than 120,000 residents.