Technology has a place in almost everyone’s life – even seniors. Senior communities can teach, interact and engage with their population in unique ways by using various technological methods.
According to Amy Funk, interim director of the Franklin County Office on Aging in Columbus; Kim Skerl, director of life enrichment at Menorah Park in Beachwood; and Nan Stewart, executive director at LSS Kensington Place in Columbus, technology plays many roles in their communities.
Skerl said Menorah Park uses technology in programming daily.
“All our activity programs are developed to meet the individual interests of our residents,” she said. “We use iPads, iPods, distance learning equipment and much more to keep residents engaged.”
Skerl added leadership at Menorah Park felt the integration of technology helps achieve the goal of “empowering” and “inspiring” residents to live their best lives.
“By expanding ways our residents connect not only to their families but also the greater community, we give our residents the opportunity and advantages to contribute living life to the fullest through benefits technology offers,” she noted. “We are also able to better engage our residents whose first language is not English. We use translator apps and download reading material and music in different languages so all our residents are still able to take part in their favorite hobbies.”
For LSS Kensington Place residents, Stewart said technology use varies within the different levels of aging but is predominately used in connecting residents to family and friends outside of the facility.
“A majority of the seniors use Facebook and access their emails, and it opens the world to them on a computer,” she said. “Technology may be a slow-moving animal in senior living, but the way we use it in our buildings has changed in the last 20 years.”
Stewart added LSS Kensington Place was also rolling out its Caremerge program, but it was interrupted by COVID-19. The new system will streamline communication between families and caregivers. Regardless of what is being done in the facility, Stewart said adding technology to services is paramount.
“This is how (seniors) live in the world,” she explained. “There are so many options with technology that we’d be living under a rock if we didn’t offer something. Even a 90-year-old resident is interested in the move from a dial phone to a smartphone and wanting to know more about computers too. Technology opens so many doors.”
At the Franklin County Office on Aging, Funk believes seniors should have “cognitively stimulating interests” and technology can help.
“Just as you can exercise your abs, biceps and quads, you can exercise your memory, attention and more. As with physical exercise, brain exercise can help you improve your performance and feel your best,” she said. “Technology can play a key role. eBooks and computer applications/video games like Chess, Words with Friends and Scrabble and tablets like Kindles and iPads enable seniors to engage in brain-stimulating activities.”
Funk added technology can also improve a senior’s quality of life.
“Columbus older adults are well-connected to modern communication methods and, according to the Age-Friendly Columbus Findings Report, most older adults in Columbus can find information on the services they need either most or all the time,” she said. “The report also stated most Columbus older adults have access to the Internet and use it regularly.”
Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents across each community are responding positively to the use of technology within their living and activity spaces. The professionals said technology can bring stability into a time of general uncertainty.
“The impact is tremendous especially right now,” Skerl stated. “Even before COVID-19, we were using iPads and computers to help our residents digitally visit with loved ones who live out of state and out of the country. We have residents who were able to watch their grandchildren get married or have their bar/bat mitzvah through Skype or FaceTime. In the past, these experiences and milestones were missed but, thanks to today’s technology that doesn’t have to be the only option.”
Stewart added, “It opens the world to them. It brings them together during times of uncertainty. They can email their families, friends and talk to people and talk it out, and this is the norm. Sometimes watching the news is a little overwhelming, so to be able to go to those trusted relationships that they’ve had online makes a big difference.”
Going into the future, Funk believes technology will continue to have a place in senior living, becoming more important as younger generations age.
“Younger seniors (baby boomers) have more experience with technology. Many used or are using technology in their careers and it has become part of daily living,” she said. “As the level of digital media literacy increases, society and family pressure will affect the level of participation of seniors. Seniors of tomorrow will view technology as a real solution to maintain their autonomy and health.”