Ready or not, here come the baby boomers! In the coming years, the most successful continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or life plan communities) will be those that find new and innovative ways to foster the lifestyle preferences of this next generation of retirees. Over the next few weeks and months, I will examine some of the CCRC trends I see on the horizon—the features CCRCs might consider in order to attract this next generation of residents.
In last week’s blog post, I discussed how CCRCs are updating various community design features in order to appeal to the baby boomers. Wellness-focused amenities, more outdoor activity spaces, and rooms that serve multiple purposes are among the design elements that progressive communities are implementing.
But another area where the industry must keep up with the times in order to appeal to the baby boomers is in the technology realm.
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The future of CCRC technology
According to new Pew Research, 73 percent of American seniors age 65 and over are now online, and nearly 60 percent of this group has broadband internet in their homes. I suspect that these percentages are even higher for CCRC prospects and residents.
As a result, technology is being introduced into CCRCs and other retirement communities at an accelerating rate. This is largely due to the expectations of the incoming baby boomers, who are accustomed to connectivity prior to move-in, and existing residents who are likely above average for their age group when it comes to tech savviness.
Here are a few of the ways that forward-thinking CCRCs and other retirement communities will be using technology to keep up with the demands of existing residents and the newest wave of retirees.
More seniors are getting their news online, using social media, and communicating with family and friends via webcam programs like Skype and Facetime. As a result, CCRCs and other retirement communities have seen increased demand for Wi-Fi in residential units and common areas. In fact, access to Wi-Fi is becoming a minimum expectation in CCRCs, like air conditioning in a new car…a given.
Indeed, in the very near future, prospects and residents’ technology must-haves will go beyond a good wireless signal for browsing the internet. For example, to meet seniors’ desire to continue learning, such technology will enable communities to host online classes and training sessions. And many communities are already making it easy to order meals and coordinate other services via online request forms or smartphone apps.
Wi-Fi access also will make it easier for less mobile residents to participate in virtual social events and online games. Such activities allow them to interact with their peers and the broader community via voice and video.
These types of online activities stimulate brain activity, which has a host of health benefits for seniors. Online communication also enables residents to stay connected with friends and loved ones who are far away, nurturing feelings of inclusion, which improves mental health.
>> Related: Game On: Can Brain Games Improve Your Memory?
CCRCs of the future also will embrace virtual reality (VR) and interactive video applications. Such VR technology is getting better and more affordable. VR advancements will allow residents to take a virtual trip to any place in the world, such as a cherished childhood home (referred to as reminiscence therapy) or another country (a great topic for engaging in conversations with others). Less mobile seniors also will use VR to bond with loved ones, enabling them to virtually take part in family events or vacations.
VR thus can be highly stimulating mentally and emotionally, which has a positive impact on seniors’ overall wellness. It also will offer benefits and solutions to a bevy of common challenges around resident isolation and loneliness, memory care, and lower-dose or narcotic-free pain management.
Technologically delivered services will one day be commonplace in senior living communities, although the scope of such high-tech breakthroughs is not yet clear. User acceptance may be a hurdle, but technology innovations may be able to meet many of the challenges tied to a growing population of seniors. The growing popularity of assistive devices in the home is just one example we are already witnessing.
Consider so-called “smart home” technology that utilizes remote monitoring to help ensure a safe living environment and higher levels of independence. One example would be a wearable Bluetooth sensor that tracks a resident’s movement. If the sensor picks up an unusual pattern, or senses no movement at all for a certain period of time, community staff are alerted to check on the resident. There are now watches that include the ability to track movement and to summon help automatically if a fall occurs or if a person loses consciousness.
There is some question as to whether these types of assistive devices go too far in terms of invading one’s privacy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that residents’ fear of being tracked diminishes as they become increasingly dependent on others. Tracking can be at the resident’s discretion, but older residents may welcome continuous tracking to ensure that they are safe and that help is quickly available when needed.
Still, in response to privacy concerns, even more advanced “smart” technology is already being developed that provides remote monitoring via Wi-Fi. Instead of a wearable “tracking” device, this smart device tracks motion patterns within a resident’s apartment through a Wi-Fi signal. If signals indicate a lack of motion during a time when there would typically be movement, then the staff is alerted.
These and other technological advancements are already being implemented at some forward-thinking CCRCs. The next generation of retirees’ need for connectivity and innovation will encourage communities to further adopt on-campus technology.
If you are considering a CCRC or other retirement community, be sure to ask about their currently available Wi-Fi connectivity and safety-related technology, as well as what types of innovations they plan to institute in the near-future. Their response to this query can be a good indicator of how they prioritize the newest high-tech advancements.