Depression and isolation are major issues facing many seniors over the age of 65. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), most depression in seniors often goes untreated because people assume depression is a “natural part of aging.” This is not the case.
Since seniors who foster relationships with their peers and greater community are less likely to feel isolated and depressed, senior living directors are uniquely poised to be able to decrease the incidence of depression in residents by implementing comprehensive social engagement programs. However, social engagement is not one size fits all, and each resident may find joy and fulfillment in slightly different things than their neighbors. As such, the Activities Department should not just be planning sock hops and exercise classes with the hope that these events appeal to all residents. Instead, it takes a more personalized approach to keep a diverse population of residents engaged and connected.
While it is ultimately up to senior care executives to decide if there are gaps in social programming and engagement opportunities at their communities, the following questions can be used to help determine if your community’s social engagement program is providing residents the greatest benefit, or where deficits may lie.
To help identify potential gaps in your senior living community’s social engagement program, ask yourself:
Does your community provide residents access to the technologies they expect?
Gone are the days when seniors avoid being online. The Pew Research Institute tells us that 71% of all seniors who use the Internet log on at least daily. When those Internet-savvy seniors become residents at a senior living community without readily accessible computers or tablets with high speed connectivity throughout the community, the lack of technology means residents must now jump through hoops to get online and stay connected.
Successful senior living communities that are focused on keeping residents socially engaged should make technology easily accessible. This includes having items such as e-readers, tablets, and laptops available for checkout from the Activities Department, or better yet, providing a device of their choosing as part of your offerings, plus having enterprise class WiFi access throughout the community.
Does your community have a specially trained software and technology designee?
With technology being a major facilitator of social engagement, some senior living executives are making the decision to find not only senior specific software, but also someone on staff who is trained to support the software, the seniors, and the staff at the community. Besides ensuring the facility is equipped with the IT infrastructure and necessary bandwidth for both the business and residents to function efficiently, this designee may also teach technology courses that serve as a new learning opportunity for seniors that are intimidated by the Internet, while more tech-savvy residents can take advantage of senior-friendly Internet portals and services. Staff members can also benefit from the addition of a dedicated technology professional, especially one who is specially trained to offer support for programs and software that were designed with residents and healthcare staff in mind.
Does your community maintain an active presence on social media?
Senior living communities that are focused on social engagement know that maintaining an active social media presence on the channels their current (and prospective) residents frequent can help them stay connected with their families, friends, and peers. Senior living communities with a strong social media presence can foster an online community by posting resources, updates, and community happenings. Residents will love seeing (and sharing) photos of events or community announcements with friends and family outside of their home.
Does your community promote or encourage the use of senior-specific apps?
Some residents have tablets and smart phones, and senior living communities that do not capitalize on that opportunity will miss a chance to connect with those residents – and to connect those residents with one another. Senior living executives are beginning to explore creating resident-facing apps that give easy access to dining menus, activity program calendars, chat capabilities, and even upcoming doctor visits for their communities. Residents can access this information at any time of day or night, allowing them to feel more connected to their community wherever they may be.
How does your community use technology to engage seniors? Have you identified what you and your team could do better, and if so, what are some of your ideas?