Why Seniors and Technology Belong Together

Brookdale Canyon Lake residents using iPads

You’ve heard the stories about seniors who miss seeing their families and friends. Or those who aren’t able to get out much but want to feel in touch with the world.

Others who have idle time on their hands that they would like to fill, and there are plenty more who want to keep mentally fit and find purpose again.

While these stories may be all too familiar, what may be less familiar is that there is a simple way to break this sense of disconnect: technology.


Senior Tech Trends

Although seniors have historically been late adopters to technology, the divide between their usage patterns and those of younger adults is starting to narrow. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, six in 10 seniors now go online and just under 50 percent use broadband. And once seniors begin using the internet, it typically becomes a regular occurrence, with 71 percent going online every day or almost every day.

The same report cites that 27 percent of seniors own a tablet, e-book reader or both, while 18 percent own a smartphone. One-quarter of seniors also use online social networking sites such as Facebook.®

Interestingly, 81 percent of seniors who do use social networking also say that they socialize with others (either in person, online or over the phone) daily or almost daily. Of those who go online but don’t use social networking sites, that figure drops to 71 percent; and for those who are not online at all, only 63 percent socialize with others that frequently.


Bringing Tech to Residents

“We believe technology is important for seniors, because it can help them to continue to live full lives. One of the perceptions we work to challenge at Brookdale is the idea that life inevitably becomes routine once you reach a certain age. Leveraging technology is a great way to push against this perception, because it makes it easy for our residents to regularly try new things,” said Christopher Leech, Brookdale’s manager of Resident Technology and Innovation.

Currently, Resident Programs leaders in all Independent Living, Assisted Living and Rehabilitation and Skill Nursing communities utilize iPads® and Apple TV® for engagement with residents. Each community is asked to make its own plan on how it integrates these technologies into its programming based on the specific interests of residents.

According to Christopher, more than half of these communities have a class that teaches residents to use iPads themselves, and all of them utilize iPad and Apple TV apps for games and group programs. Christopher also produces a monthly iPad engagement newsletter with suggested apps, links to interesting online content and video tutorials to help Resident Programs associates continue to expand how they use this technology with residents. Outside those communities, Christopher has partnered with the Resident and Family Engagement team to develop resources for iPad use in our healthcare centers and to support Brookdale’s brain health program.

Additionally, Brookdale’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care communities use the InTouch℠ system which helps these residents remain cognitively stimulated through activities, games and remembrance programs, as well as the ability to reach out to family and friends. It’s all done through an intuitively designed touch-screen that features picture-based screen prompts; no knowledge of computers is even necessary.

Christopher notes that technology interest varies greatly by community, with approximately 80 communities, primarily in the western half of the country, that report high resident interest. About 70 communities report very low interest; however, most communities fall somewhere in between with resident device usage rates at around 25 percent. “I am continually exploring what factors set these communities apart and what steps I can take to foster increased technology adoption in all of our communities,” Christopher said.

The continued lag behind younger adults in technology use may not necessarily be a lack of interest. There are some challenges seniors face, making it more difficult to adopt new technologies. The Pew Research Center report also stated that two in five seniors have a “physical or health condition that makes reading difficult.” As a result, this group could be less likely to go online or to own a digital device.

What’s more, 77 percent of seniors say they need assistance learning to use a smartphone or tablet. And 56 percent of seniors who go online but don’t currently use social networking sites say they would need assistance before using them. But once seniors do adapt these technologies, it becomes an integral part of their daily lives. And this is something Brookdale is taking to heart.


Teaching Tech to Seniors

You don’t have to look far to see examples of technology in action across Brookdale communities.

Jewel Bauer, Resident Programs assistant at Brookdale Vernon Hills, offers a class called Tech Troubles, where residents can bring in their devices and ask any questions they may have from how to use the camera feature to how to send a text; the most common question is how to check voicemail.

It’s structured like a troubleshooting course, but Jewel is also developing a more in-depth class that would include topics such as social media, email and Microsoft Office® programs.

When she started with Brookdale in spring 2016, she noticed right away that there was a need to help residents with technology, but what really moved the idea along were the holidays. “So many of our residents had received new devices as gifts but had no idea where to start. We decided offering a once a week program where residents could bring their devices and learn a little more every week would help them feel more comfortable using technology,” Jewel said. “When the class was first offered, I had to have the residents make appointments, because there were so many people coming and only one of me.”

She believes the biggest impact of the class is that residents are thrilled to be able to keep in touch with their families more easily, because they now know how to use their smartphones. “The residents are so appreciative to have somewhere to go with their questions without having to bother family or go to a store and are adamant that we never stop the program,” she said.


Taking Tech to the Next Level

A group of residents at Brookdale Canyon Lakes, led by Resident Programs Coordinator Joe Green, puts on a weekly newscast that is broadcast on Facebook and at the community.

Resident Joyce Green, 90, said they feature regular segments such as Meet a Resident, so people across the large community can “get acquainted and learn all the talents we have here.”

The newscast is anchored by three residents and includes a variety of stories that covers trips and outings and previews upcoming events, and they’ve even done trivia that ties into the Brookdale Celebrates program. “I came up with the idea for the trivia, which we did once a month. I’d dress in the theme for that month, from Cleopatra to a biker lady, and I’d go out in the community and quiz residents about the theme,” Joyce said.

The skits are perhaps the most fun; Joyce shared an April fool’s prank by resident Art Swoboda. “The skit was Art planning to go in to business using his golf cart to take people from the cottages over to the main building. He was arguing with the city over permits and not understanding why he couldn’t expand to take people to the airport. It was great!” Joyce said.

Each Monday the group meets to brainstorm ideas and assign jobs; they film on Wednesday, then edit, and the piece is on Facebook by Friday. Joe is the director and does the filming. One of the most amazing things to Joyce is that “none of the residents in the group has any background in this. It’s really helped people come out of their shells and realize they have more talents than they thought!”

What Joyce loves most about being part of the newscast is the socialization and the creativity. “Joe is so good at challenging us, and we meet the challenge. He’s supportive, and I really enjoy being so active and creative. We get to come up with these ideas, and it keeps us mentally alert.

“Here I am 90-years-old and doing this, and I’m using my iPad and iPhone. My grandkids are amazed — it’s great!”


Adapting to Tech

Experience and research are showing seniors do adapt to new technologies, and once they do, it becomes an integral part of their daily lives. From connecting with family and friends to online learning and brain games, even opportunities to make an impact in the world, regardless of age, it’s clear access to new devices, apps and opportunities have already had far-reaching benefits for seniors — and those they interact with through these technologies.

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