There’s a silent public health crisis following in the COVID-19 pandemic’s shadow: social isolation. Loneliness has been linked to serious health conditions, including dementia, depression and heart disease. Keeping at-risk older adults in quarantine and safe from the virus too often has come at the expense of an enriching social life.
Even as lockdowns are lifted and some senior living communities resume modified family visits and social programming, the pandemic isn’t over. Many older adults still will feel more comfortable limiting their interactions.
That’s where technology can help. A variety of online platforms can give older adults a sense of purpose and connection in lieu of socializing in person.
Here are some of the best technology solutions communities have been using to fight social isolation.
Online enrichment modules stand in for community events
Many senior living communities have built virtual programming to help residents continue doing the things they enjoy during quarantine. Through livestreams on Zoom and community portals, activities directors have found that a wide variety of events are conducive to an online format.
One example is John Knox Village, a life plan community in Florida, which has used an online platform to create a hub for virtual entertainment during quarantine (and keeps it updated even as the community resumes some in-person events).
The community offers happy hours, book clubs and birthday parties for residents over Zoom, and it allows residents to tune into engaging online content such as virtual museum tours and TED Talks.
Promote video conferencing and digital connection with loved ones
When visits and in-person community events are on hold, an exciting array of virtual programming can’t be the sole means of warding off loneliness. Older adults still need to make personal, one-on-one connections, even if they are remote. Video conferencing enables that.
For older adults who never have used apps such as FaceTime or Zoom before, setting up a video call can be confusing. According to one survey of senior living residents, 55% of respondents never had used video conferencing before COVID-19.
Dedicated senior living staff members can help residents navigate using these apps, while a community communication platform can integrate with video platforms to handle scheduling at scale.
Staff members also can encourage senior living residents or adult day center participants to stay in touch with one another via social media or community-specific online portals. Residents also might set up video calls with friends in the community when they can’t see them in person.
Leverage voice technology for emotional support
Voice technology can make a big difference in the day-to-day life of older adults in quarantine. Easy-to-use smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa can be especially impactful for visually impaired and disabled older adults who may have difficulties using other tech devices such as smartphones and computers.
Beyond assistance with tasks such as submitting maintenance requests or checking a prescription status, voice technology actually can combat isolation and loneliness. A smart speaker can keep residents in the loop about upcoming community and social events. It also can tailor its recommendations to the resident’s preferences to play his or her favorite album or suggest a movie to watch, for instance.
Keep loneliness at bay with engagement technology
Technology can’t replace in-person connection, which has begun to safely return as senior living communities partially resume normal programming. Still, there’s no saying how the coming months will pan out. It’s crucial for senior living directors to adopt flexible tools to support not only their residents’ health but also their overall wellbeing.
Senior living technology and the programming it facilitates provides a valuable enrichment opportunity during quarantine and into the future, and it even allows older adults to make connections and find new interests they might not have made before the pandemic.
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. Read more biographical information below.