By Jack Cumming

Unless you are continuously improving your resident-customer’s lives, others will be improving the lives of those who aren’t yet your customers. Think about that. It’s tricky. If you aren’t going forward as fast as or faster than everyone else, you will be slipping backward compared with everyone else. This may not be intuitively obvious right out of the gate.


It’s a reality that came to my attention from Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang. (Here he is on 60 Minutes. Here he is at Stanford University.) It also just makes sense. Huang noted that his customers — technically sophisticated customers, we can add — are always trying to get better. If he doesn’t stay ahead of them and bring them better results at ever-decreasing costs, they will do it for themselves.

Now for the senior living counterpart. Those who are eligible for senior living aren’t trying to prove the value of a provider’s sales pitch. They are just trying to live their lives as best they can. They’re also doing pretty well at that. Technology is advancing rapidly to help them live well and even better.


Of course, not everyone loves technology. But not all technologies are that hard to master. Think of ride-sharing. If a technophobic older person is losing their driving capacity, that can seem like a catastrophe. Ride-sharing to the rescue.

Imagine. Grandma can no longer even make the short trip from home to buy groceries. She may feel that she has no alternative but to move to the senior living home she’s long tried to avoid. Then, a granddaughter comes to visit. “Mops,” she says, using her endearing term for Grandma, “you can use Uber or Lyft. You don’t have to move.”

With that, suddenly, in that moment, the smartphone that grandma has long hated and refused to use becomes grandma’s lifeline. Her pride is saved. She can keep her independence. Given the circumstances, she’s willing to learn how ride-sharing apps work.

If she can’t learn, she’s ready for memory care, and that’s a different situation. Our grandma, though, isn’t there yet. She’s still good to go. “Hallelujah,” she thinks, “now I can keep my dignity and my pride of home ownership. Life is good and worth living.”

Provider Technophobia

Back to senior living. The sales folks are not accepting Grandma’s choice to stay at home. “Our independent or ‘residential’ living,” they counter, “can give her most of that and socialization with nutritious meals in addition.”

Does Grandma think she needs more socialization with new friends whom she hasn’t even met yet? Unlikely. Does she want to sell her home to pay an entrance fee? Unlikely. Does she want to be seen as so decrepit that she needs to live in an age-restricted home for old people? Unlikely. Does the senior living transportation department have an app that is as convenient as Uber or Lyft? Unlikely.

Circle of Friends

Grandma now has more advanced technology at home than what she can find for transportation in most senior living communities. Moreover, she can stay among the circle of friends she’s long known. They’ve aged together and remained friends through it all. If she needs something, she calls a friend. They help each other.

If Grandma has a disaster — for instance, an unsteady heartbeat in the middle of the night — she calls 911 directly with no intermediary. Her friends have told her that EMTs are better trained for such incidents than the staff at “the home.” She feels safe. She feels secure.

Competing With the Customer

That’s what senior living is competing with. Jensen Huang called that “competing with the customer.” If the customer comes to perceive that life is better without you than with you, then the market opportunity is lost before it begins.

The imperative for the senior living industry is to continuously advance at a faster pace than alternatives beyond the walls. That almost seems self-evident. As business has shifted from the industrial era into the digital age, operations become secondary to the need to embrace the technological forefront and to stay there.

The Right Person for the Job

That digital imperative requires a different executive than what many senior living enterprises now have. Often, senior living technology officers are chosen more for their “human” qualities than for their love of new technologies and new organizational concepts. They’re nice people who mean well, but technology is not likely to be their forte.

Today’s senior living, and tomorrow’s senior living, requires a C-suite commitment beyond what vendors are selling. It, more importantly, requires a sense of what’s possible and what vendors may soon be offering if you, their customers, don’t beat them to it.

Senior living operators are the vendors’ customers, and as Jensen Huang makes clear, if the vendors aren’t there before you are, then you, the senior living operator or investor, will be better off relying on yourself.

The 70-Pound Computer Chip

Can you conceive of a 70-pound computer chip that replaces an entire data center while cutting costs to a fraction of what it costs today? Yes, that’s 70 pounds, but Nvidia can not only conceive of it, but they’re also building it. It will cost less than the cables alone in today’s data center. Who is thinking like that for senior living? If you don’t know, then it’d best be you, or it will be someone else.

State-of-the-art technology is all around us these days. Approach your stateroom door on Princess Cruises, and the door is unlocked automatically just in time for you to simply walk in. It also keeps track of your RFID “Medallion” wherever you go. Princess can deliver drinks and more wherever you are. I haven’t seen that in senior living yet, whether for drinks or meds, or whatever.

Stay at a Hilton Hotel and your iPhone unlocks the door. It’s not as sophisticated as the Princess Cruises technology, but it’s ahead of most senior living. Senior living has a way to go to stay relevant. Some senior living operators still use pager technology for call systems.

Senior living vendors only have to please providers, but providers have to please residents and the residents’ families, or reputation will suffer, and sales momentum will be lost. Senior living is likely to shrink and shrivel unless it adopts the pace of advancing change that benefits other living sectors. It’s time to leapfrog into the digital age.

Click here for Jensen Huang on 60 Minutes. Click here for Jensen Huang at Stanford University.