Social Engagement in Senior Living: Technology’s Changing Role

One of the great dangers facing today’s seniors is the threat of social isolation. As seniors withdraw from the work world and family moves away, it’s too easy to lose touch.

It happens all the time. A study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely. Those lonely seniors had a 59 percent greater risk of declining health. For many, technology provides an answer. Among seniors who use the internet, a whopping 75 percent do so in order to keep in touch with family and friends, according to the Brookings Institution.

The senior living industry is catching on. In the ongoing effort to keep residents socially engaged and aware, operators increasingly are turning to technology. Residents and their families are responding.

It starts with a portal

For many senior residences, the effort to connect seniors to each other and to the broader world begins not at the individual level – though this will come – but rather at the level of infrastructure.

Today’s most sophisticated senior residences make use of portal systems designed to generate ongoing opportunities for contact amongst the residents, with family members, and with the broader community. A communications portal can offer a resident a single online starting point to engage in a wealth of social activities from email to social apps to video calling.

For housing operators seeking to encourage greater social outreach among their residents, a portal infrastructure offers a solid starting point. With the fundamentals in place, what tools may become available?

Resident-facing community chat

For many seniors, staying connected and engaged will begin with their immediate community; the friends and neighbors with whom they share the day. Community chat functions allow seniors to stay in touch even on days when they aren’t up and about – connecting with friends, making plans, avoiding isolation.

Social media for Seniors

Access to social media is becoming more and more common as the yardstick by which senior engagement is measured. For those who may not have the capacity to go visiting every day, or whose family may be geographically dispersed, social media opens a world of possibilities. Social media is interactive, not just two-way but all ways, drawing together one’s entire network of friends, family, community and others. It is multi-dimensional, a gateway to facilitate photo, video and audio contact with loved ones. By its very nature social media helps to dispel isolation and bring one out into the wider world.

Video calling

There’s nothing quite like a face-to-face chat – and for those whose loved ones may be far afield, video calling offers just that. A sophisticated portal can facilitate these exchanges, making it easy for seniors to create live links, even if they may not be the most technically savvy users.

In a sense, that’s the real beauty of a communications portal: Not just that it can offer these and other functions in a single package, but that seniors can access these tools with ease. With a solid communications infrastructure, senior living operators can dispel isolation and encourage social engagement, while at the same time making it simple for seniors to be a part of the process.

 The final leg here is a technology concierge, an on-site specialist who provides residents and staff with the training and expertise needed to make the most of these new tools and technologies. As a technology expert, a concierge can form a vital link in the chain for operators looking to deliver the highest level of technology-based services.

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