There’s an image in the back of our minds, put there by TV and movies and messaging across society. There’s an older woman, hands folded neatly in her lap. She sits in a chair or rocks slowly, staring out the window at life passing by in the street.
We’ve come to view this fundamental sense of isolation as a necessary part of aging, but that is hardly the case. Seniors are just as capable as anyone of maintaining meaningful and vibrant social engagements. Doing so would encourage their enduring physical and emotional health.
A socially engaged senior experience can be seen as having two components, one on the management side, the other on the technology side. Looking first at technology, we see three key tools:
1. On-the-go capabilities.
Mobile seniors are more likely to engage with friends in the community, whereas mobility-impaired adults may be more likely to isolate. Remote health-tracking systems may give seniors greater freedom of movement by watching for falls and other negative events, thus providing residents a greater opportunity to get out and about.
2. Device-friendly portal.
Seniors have been shown to respond to in-room computers as a means to connect with friends and family. Laptops offer another avenue, as do Wi-Fi enabled tablets. By connecting these devices to a senior-friendly operating system or portal, it becomes possible to manage services, provide seniors with easy-to-use tools and put most-used applications front and center on a range of devices, in order to make it as easy as possible for seniors to connect.
3. In-house support.
One might not think of tech support as a vital link in the chain of social engagement. Savvy operators know, though, that even the most helpful tech tools cannot provide engagement if users don’t have the support they need to interact effectively. An on-site IT specialist can deliver the highest level of technology-based services, and ensure that staff and residents alike can take part in social engagement activities both within their community and amongst outside friends and family.
When it comes to policies and practices, those in the senior housing business can utilize a handful of fundamental management tools.
- Keep it simple: Socially engaged seniors may not need elaborate events or outings. A quiet space and a chance to talk may be all that is required.
- Engage staff: Make sure caregivers understand the importance of engagement and train them on the technologies that will help seniors to connect.
- Reach out to youth: Connecting with young people can be a vital part of the senior engagement experience. Look for opportunities in the local community.
All these management tools can help those in the senior housing business to keep seniors socially engaged. Paired with fundamental technology tools, sound practices can help to ensure that seniors maintain vital connections to their communities both near and far.
Social isolation is a genuine burden among seniors. Social engagement is the answer. It’s up to senior housing executives to ensure that engagement is possible, weaving into their operations the most current technological tools in order to make it as easy as possible to keep residents connected and engaged.