This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section.
If you or a loved one are moving to a senior living community, you’d better be prepared to embrace the 21st century. Technology has already moved in and is creating a safer, healthier, more connected environment for residents and their families.
From apartment monitoring to social platforms to smartphone training, residents in Chicagoland communities are far from stranded in today’s sea of tech. Even seniors over 80 — who are more likely to be “virtual shut-ins” — are taking to it like fish to water once they learn how fun and useful it can be, according to a survey by Brookdale Senior Living.
Home monitoring is a huge growth area in the aging world because of the sense of security it offers older folks and their families. Montgomery Place, a retirement community in Hyde Park, realized this six years ago when it started the LifeCare@Home program, to provide a variety of in-home care services to residents in their own home or in Montgomery Place.
Part of this program was to install motion detectors in some resident apartments. The strategically placed sensors receive signals from a transmitter worn by the resident. This allows their pattern of movements to be logged throughout the day and night, so staff can detect signs of trouble such as using the bathroom too often or falling.
Residents like the fact that they can maintain their privacy, says Bobby Pope, director of LifeCare@Home. “It’s not Big Brother. It only monitors them inside their apartment and they can shut it off,” he says. “Besides, at less than $200 a month, it costs far less than hiring a caregiver for even a few hours a day.”
For those who want to use a camera to monitor a home and/or keep a watchful eye on loved ones, they will find that home monitoring devices have gotten a lot more affordable and useful. For example, a new video camera line by Vimtag starts at around $100 with no monthly fees.
The company had seniors in mind when it designed an optional SOS button that connects wirelessly to certain models. Each Vimtag camera is Internet enabled via Wi-Fi. So when a person presses the SOS button, it alerts a family member or caregiver via a smartphone app. The cameras also have two-way voice capabilities, so the person who pushed the button has a quick connection to someone who can hear and see them.
Families often use the cameras to keep an eye on caregivers, says Joseph Sherman, vice president of Vimtag.“For seniors, it’s not an invasion. It’s quality of life,” Sherman says. “It can bring a lot of people a tremendous amount of security and peace of mind.”
Using technology to enhance communication among families, residents and staff is a priority at Presbyterian Homes. “We wanted a secure platform that could do this and more, and we chose the Caremerge system as a way to do that,” says Nadim Abi-Antoun, chief operating officer. Presbyterian Homes is rolling it out now in a pilot program.
Caremerge is computer based. It gives staff the ability to create an event, invite residents and track attendance, similar to Evite. Residents can create their own event too. This allows staff to gauge what residents prefer. Families can also log in.
“Also, if we see dips in attendance, they might be red flags for other things that we can watch out for,” Abi-Antoun says. “We have gotten the most positive feedback form the families of those in memory care. They love to log on and see the activities of their loved ones.”
Smart TVsPresbyterian Homes also broadcasts to residents’ TVs on a special in-house channel. The calendar is there and residents can call to sign up for activities, Abi-Antoun says.LifeCare@Home offers a system called IndependaTV. It basically turns the television into an interactive experience rather than a passive one. It allows video chatting when the phone rings, and many other interactive health care and social features. It can also do medication reminders onscreen. The cost is about $75 a month, and Montgomery Place has a demonstration room set up for residents to try before they buy.
Brookdale, the country’s largest senior living provider, has a campaign to “rewire aging.” It wants to make seniors as comfortable with technology as their families are, so they can stave off isolation by engaging with the world digitally.
“Loneliness in this age group is associated with shorter life spans, chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and even dementia. That’s why engaging seniors with others is a focus of our communities,” says Brookdale’s Chief Medical Officer Kevin O’Neil.
Chicago-area Brookdale communities now have iPads available for residents to borrow. They also provide instruction on things like video chatting, Facebook, and email, plus field trips to the Apple store for classes. A senior tech support company has been engaged for fee-based, individualized help.
“Lots of our residents have smartphones and tablets, but they don’t know how to fully use them,” says Carol Cummings, Brookdale’s senior director of optimum life engagement. “What we see over and over again is that they want to use these tools to connect with family and friends and the outside world.”
Brookdale’s rewiring is already connecting.
“One woman saw her great-grandchild 15 minutes after she was born. People are able to celebrate birthdays together. Adult children can give their parents a tour of their new house, or they can attend memorial services remotely,” Cummings says.
The list goes on: an author who did Face Time with a resident book club; a watercolor class taught via YouTube; residents looking up their childhood homes on Google Earth.Cummings describes one 80-year-old man’s transformation from technophobe to savvy user. “I asked him what the knowledge had done for him. ‘It has opened up the world to me,’ he said.”