There's an unfair stereotype about America's older adults - that they don't know their way around technology.
While some younger people will always complain about playing tech-support for their aging parents, the truth is that older adults are more cyber-savvy than they’ve ever been. Consider some statistics from a 2017 Pew Research survey:
- 67% of 65+ Americans report using the internet
- 75% of these older internet users say they’re online every day
- 42% of 65+ Americans use a smart phone daily
- 47% of 65-69 year-olds report use of social media, as do 41% of 70-74 year-olds
As the numbers show, these older adults don’t mind using new tech! And as time goes on and tech gets smarter, the rate of adoption is only going to increase.
Now, “65+” is a broad range of people. Many of them are recent retirees. They’re years away from contemplating a stay in a senior living community.
However, there’s no doubt that, when they start looking, they’ll be expecting communities to keep up with their high-tech expectations.
So, it’s worth asking: what do today’s older adults want from technology? And how should senior living management prepare to give it to them?
Invest in Tech’s Backbone
First things first. Giving residents the tech experience they want will mean investing in modern internet infrastructure. Here’s why.
Today’s older adults are accustomed to lightning-fast broadband browsing in their own homes. More than that, they’re also using a staggering array of connected devices, which they’ll bring along as they move into a new community.
These devices include laptops and tablets, but they don’t stop there. Expect Alexa to move in, too, along with wearable tech, like Apple watches and Fitbits. Even gaming consoles are making headway among the older crowd — half of all adults over 50 now play video-games regularly.
All these devices drain a lot of bandwidth. If communities aren’t prepared to handle that level of consumption, performance will lag. That’s liable to make tech-loving residents very unhappy.
Which is why Kevin Merrill, Business Development Director at senior-living connectivity provider Inviacom, recommends every senior living community make robust Wi-Fi an investment priority:
“Wireless internet access is the single most desired amenity in senior living today. The average resident has gone from having two devices to between seven and nine – and that number’s only going to grow. Senior living communities need to be prepared to offer a network that delivers Wi-Fi access not just in buildings, but seamlessly throughout entire campuses.”
In other words, your community should be proactive about getting its internet infrastructure up to snuff. It’s the bare minimum that your residents expect.
Make it Easy
Speed counts for a lot with tech consumers, but it’s not everything. Ease of use is also very important.
Aging bodies have special needs for interacting with technology. Older Americans’ deal with weaker eyesight, less nimble fingers, and more and more, they expect the technology they use to accommodate these limitations. This should be a part of the conversation when communities deploy any resident-facing technological platform.
Did you know, for example, that while mouse-movements are more accurate for the general population, a touch-screen interface works better for older adults?
Or that buttons on touch-screen interfaces should be at least 9.6mm diagonally, if older adults are to have any hope of using them?
These details make the difference between an experience that frustrates residents, and one that delights them. Make sure that whatever you deploy keeps these best-practices in mind.
What Residents Want — And Need — From Tech
Finally, senior living leadership should understand why tech is so important to today’s residents. It boils down to a single word: connection.
It’s intuitive enough that smart phones and social media help older adults feel connected. But the academic evidence in favor of internet-tech is also overwhelming.
This study observed how digital technology enhances older adults’ sense of connectedness, when their relatives live far away.
And these researchers found that “among older community-dwelling populations, digital literacy [internet use] has a positive impact on overall satisfaction with life.”
The AARP weighs in on this effect, too, discussing how the use of the internet is essential in bridging the gap between generations, especially when older family members no longer live independently.
Taken together, this data shows how much technology can mean to a resident. Platforms that boost social presence can be the difference between lonesome isolation and thriving connectedness.
For management in senior living, cultivating that sense of connection is essential to the well-being of senior living residents.
Embrace the Tech Responsibility
Given how much smart technology improves the health of older adults , is it any wonder that the United Nations recently deemed access to the internet an essential human right? Or that the FCC is building out a mandatory expansion of rural broadband, specifically to improve internet access in rural senior living communities?
All this points to a consensus. Senior living residents don’t just want a tech-enabled community; they deserve robust and easy access to technologies that bring them closer with their loved ones. And as today’s tech-savvy retirees become tomorrow’s residents, delivering that access will be essential to keep your community thriving.