By Susan Saldibar

Are You Isolating Your Residents? How Do You Know? 

Not an easy question, since true social isolation isn’t always easy to recognize, let alone tackle. We all know that some folks just like to keep to themselves. They’ve always been that way, so no amount of cajoling to get them involved will work. But what about those individuals who once enjoyed active social interactions with family and friends? As they got older, due to a variety of circumstances, those interactions became fewer and fewer until they disappeared altogether. What about them?

You would think that a move to a community with plenty of people around would help ease the social isolation. But, more often than not, these once-sociable folks end up sitting in their own rooms with the TV on. Maybe because it feels safer and less intimidating than venturing out in the hallway. So, social isolation can actually increase.

The team at Touchtown (a Senior Living Foresight partner) recently shared with me an AARP report, listing the primary risk factors associated with isolation. It includes the following: 

  • Living alone
  • Mobility or sensory impairment
  • Major life transitions
  • Psychological or cognitive vulnerabilities
  • Small social network and/or inadequate social support

No wonder so many residents of senior living communities feel isolated from others and their families back home. The result of ongoing social isolation is detrimental to the health of seniors. Check out these numbers:     

  • An estimated one in five adults over age 50—at least 8 million—are affected by isolation. (AARP)
  • Prolonged isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (AARP)
  • Isolation can lead to a weakened immune system, heart disease, depression, and even dementia. (Journal of Health and Social Behavior)

Touchtown is doing some transformative work with senior living communities to help re-engage socially isolated residents in new ways. What I like is that they’re giving residents choices as to how they want to communicate and connect. 

Touchtown shared with me the following four ways their community partners use their platform and apps to connect their members to each other, family, and staff:

  1. Connecting residents to each other. Residents can look through the resident directory and learn more about their neighbors before they reach out to them. They can identify people with similar interests, backgrounds, and hobbies through each resident’s bio. This is really helpful for newer residents, who may balk at just jumping into a new group activity when they don’t know other residents. But the more they know about other residents and activities, the easier it becomes to join in the social offerings. 
  2. Connecting family members to the community. Touchtown enables family members to get a glimpse into what’s going on at their loved one’s community each day. Families can access a customized app from their smartphone to see when mom’s favorite dish is being served, or when the next Family Picnic Day takes place. Those who rely on Alexa at home (for everything from recipes to music to weather) can also find out the same information simply by asking Alexa. It keeps them connected, wherever they are.
  3. Connecting staff to residents. Residents converse with the employees that care for them each day. Likewise, your team is always acquainted and accessible to their members. Through detailed bios, employees master the values and interests of their residents to provide exceptional service.
  4. Connecting vision/hearing impaired residents. Many communities credit Touchtown as helping residents who might otherwise become isolated to connect. Residents who are visually or hearing impaired are particularly vulnerable. Recently Stacey Judge, Wellness Program Director for Springpoint Senior Living, shared how using Touchtown with Alexa is helping vision impaired residents. “Having Alexa connected to Touchtown in their apartments has been an absolute motivator for them to come out and join an activity. It’s definitely increased engagement,” Stacey says. “Enhanced communication leads to more engagement; more engagement combats isolation. One leads to another,” she adds.

Overall, the most critical factor of success is utilization. And in order to inspire members to adopt technology that strengthens the connection to their home, they need to witness the effect. “Resident-led technology ambassador groups accelerate adoption and serve as an incubator for new ideas,” Touchtown’s Director of Marketing, Christian Kratsas told me. “Increased program attendance can lead to increased length of stay. Both of which we see are outcomes of establishing a peer-to-peer philosophy regarding new technology.”

To learn more about how Touchtown technology reduces social isolation among residents, please visit their website