Technology Innovation for Senior Living—Does It Make An Impact?

on May 26, 2021 | By Allbridge Support

3min read


Innovation is happening all around us. From artificial intelligence (AI) to 3-D printing, countless breakthroughs have changed the way we liveimproving efficiency in our daily routines and also in the workplace. Many industries have embraced these technologies, but what does innovation look like for the senior living industry?

In a recent article in Senior Housing News, writer Tim Mullaney interviews a technology entrepreneur focused on the senior living sector to provide an honest perspective on how the industry is embracing innovation and why it is not sustainable.

“Operators love to talk about innovation. But how many actually embrace innovation? I think that a growing number are candidly trying, but fall short or completely fail because they don’t have a proper structure in place. Because so many people are talking about innovation, everyone feels like they need to be piloting something, which — alongside the fact that the industry itself is growing — is attracting other entrepreneurs to create prototype products that can be piloted in the industry. It’s this positive feedback loop, which sounds great and theoretically is something we should all be excited about, but it has this critical failure mechanism in that the dots aren’t being connected past the pilot stage, so it’s impossible to make a true impact.”

The contributor goes on to explain that the industry needs to embrace innovation and accept the importance of progression in order to meet the demands of a rapidly growing industry. When asked what the biggest obstacles preventing senior living operators from being more innovative in their adoption and use of technology, budgetary restrictions and poor allocation was noted as the biggest challenge.

"The theoretical obstacle is budget constraints, but I think more accurately it’s budget misappropriation. There is so much money poured into bringing a building to life … but relative pennies set aside for supporting actual life in the community. It’s kind of crazy, because it’s a relatively simple thing to rectify, and a simple change to justify. The difference in scale between a community’s marketing budget and activities budget is nonsensical — especially when today’s consumer looks at lifestyle as a key feature.

Don’t think of innovation as an expense, treat it as an investment. Seriously. Yes, there are limitations to that approach in practice, and you should understand those limitations, but don’t treat them as barriers. There’s a huge difference between a barrier preventing you from doing anything right now, and a limitation setting the parameters on the extent of what you can do right now. If you invest in the right kind of innovation, and your communities grow as a result, then those limitations should loosen up, and you can pursue more."

Corporate-level operators should be careful to not miss the big picture when trying to innovate, and keep sight of the ultimate goal in the senior living industry: improving the quality of life for residents.
For a time, many operators didn't consider technology innovation to be something that would directly benefit residents. Many assumed the majority of seniors had a negative view of things like social media and smartphones, and were less likely to explore new technologies. However, recent studies have shown otherwise. According to a  journal published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine by William J. Chopik, PhD, older adults generally have positive attitudes towards technology. 
"Higher social technology use was associated with better self-rated health, fewer chronic illnesses, higher subjective well-being, and fewer depressive symptoms. Furthermore, each of the links between social technology use and physical and psychological health was mediated by reduced loneliness. Close relationships are a large determinant of physical health and well-being, and technology has the potential to cultivate successful relationships among older adults."
Previous research on technology use across generations has focused on the "digital divide" - the idea that there are large disparities between younger adults versus older adults, who have been characterized by the idea that they feel anxious or intimidated by changing technology, or lack the ability and motivation to adapt. Newer studies show that m any more older adults actually do acknowledge the benefits of technology use, and there may be portions of the older population that use technology as often as younger adults.
"Older adults think technology makes it easier to reach people, stay in touch with the people they like, and meet new people. Technology also supports existing social activities with friends and enhances convenience in many life domains (e.g., seeking out information). In short, older adults think the benefits of technology greatly outweigh the costs and challenges of technology."
Innovation doesn't have to be flashy, and it doesn't have to be a pipe dream: it just has to make an impact. When asked about the most rewarding part of his job, Mullaney's unnamed tech entrepreneur reflected on the joy that comes from making the world a better place for these seniors:
"I cannot explain how satisfying it is to see the light shining in a staff member’s face as they relay the moments of joy they’ve experienced as the result of their leadership team’s decision to actively invest in innovation."
Innovation is necessary in order to progress anything forward especially a business in an increasingly competitive space. Fortunately, the right provider will guide you through the process with scalable options to gradually upgrade the technology at your community at a pace that aligns with your needs and your budget.

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