Glen Tibbitts, United Church Homes’ Corporate Director of IT and HIPAA Security Officer, says he’s noticed a “mindset shift” as residents’ expectations change. Photography by Leonardo Carrizo
“Otherwise, you’ll see people with a device that’s still in the box,” he says. “People will tend to engage with technology if they feel they have agency in the process. That’s really important.”
Looking ahead, UCH is piloting a number of clinical and lifestyle technologies, including a smart badge that transcribes the speech of employees and family members for deaf patients.
“It’s all about abundant life and abundant aging,” Tibbitts says. “We want to make the move to senior care a great transition for our residents, and we realize that we can do that with innovations in technology.”
From Technology Engagement to Adoption in Senior Care
When the pandemic spiked demand for connectivity in early 2020, Ingleside was ready.
The organization, which operates three communities for older adults in the Washington, D.C., area and also provides at-home care, upgraded its wireless infrastructure in 2019, installing new Cisco Meraki access points across its locations.
The number of residents using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to communicate with family members and friends “exploded” during the pandemic, according to Ingleside CIO Dusanka Delovska-Trajkova.
“The pandemic sped up everything,” Delovska-Trajkova says. “Technology was seen as a rescuer for people experiencing isolation.”
Ingleside conducts regular proactive engagements with residents to determine what technologies will best meet their needs and has even brought in researchers from universities to help optimize tech solutions for users. Several years ago, Ingleside leaders discovered that around 30 percent of their residents were largely unable to use touch-screen devices due to various health and mobility issues. Ingleside piloted the use of voice-activated digital assistants, but researchers determined that the tech was not yet mature enough to be useful to residents.
Instead of using digital assistants, Ingleside worked with residents and researchers to revamp its resident engagement portal, making it easier for seniors to access information about things such as programming and dining options.
Perhaps just as important as the technology itself is Ingleside’s training program. Tech leaders trained 40 resident “ambassadors” on the new portal application; those residents then promoted the solution across the organization. Ingleside also has twice-weekly tech sessions where residents learn how to use tech tools from volunteers and from each other.
“In just a few weeks, we had more than 60 percent adoption of the new portal,” Delovska-Trajkova says. “The vendor called us thinking there was something wrong with their analytics tools, because they hadn’t seen that before. Now we’re close to 80 percent. Giving residents a way to express their opinions helped us to get that adoption, and we understand from talking with our vendors that those conversations haven’t always happened between residents and senior care providers.”
Older Adults’ Use of Technology Is Growing
Laurel Mundell, director of administrative services at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Cypress Village, says that older adults moving into the communities in recent years are more tech savvy than previous generations. Many provide an email address as a form of contact when they move in, and the bulk of residents stated in a recent survey that they wanted to receive electronic communications along with printed materials.
“If we give them tech resources, they’re very likely to use them,” Mundell says. “What we’ve learned is that if we host these classes that focus on one fraction of the tech — something as simple as leaving a Google review — then they adopt the technology on their own. They have the attitude of, ‘If you just show me once, then I’m good.’”