There is a lot of technology floating around the senior living world and yet, with the possible exception of computer based, wireless call systems, the adoption rate is very low.

Do activity sensors have practical value? . . . is the ultimate question that my friend Leslie Kernian, MD asks in her articled titled “Will Activity Sensors In Home Help Mom” This question is really an introduction to the even more fundamental technology question senior living needs to tackle:

How do we really make technology work in the senior housing environment?

 There is no shortage of people and organizations working on this problem and we are seeing more and more senior living communities implementing some newer forms of technology that include wireless emergency call systems, various resident portal video systems and wireless networks. This is an area that I am particularly interested in for two reasons:

  1. I am fascinated by new technology and if I had buckets of money, I would be an early adopter of all kinds of technology, but my bank account is just not big enough (though I know a couple of people who are early adopters and they have some really cool stuff.)
  2. The second is that in my role as a business development officer for Vigil Health Solutions I am always kind of bugged with our tag line “Vigil improves the life of seniors through creative technology” since essentially all we do is emergency call systems in spite of the fact that our tag line seems to promise more.

Recently I sat down with Steve Smith the VP of development for Vigil to talk about technology and senior housing.  My first question for him was what gives with the Vigil tagline and what we do? The Technology Conundrum Steve Smith responded that in fact, Vigil is a technology leader with the Vigil Dementia System which is really the only comprehensive system that allows you to continuously monitor the safety of dementia residents at night or when they are in their rooms. He then went on to listed 4 additional challenges we have in the adoption of technology for seniors:

  1. Cost  – The reason that cell phones, iPods, Android tablets, fax machines and digital cameraw are so relatively inexpensive is because millions of them are sold.  This means lower production costs and that development costs can be spread over millions of units. As big as the senior market is, there is no comparison in terms of the number of units made and sold.
  2. Technology Aversion  –  In truth, senior community operators are largely technology adverse.  Some of this is likely because their natural focus is either real estate development or the care of residents with technology being something that has been largely forced on them.
  3. Complexity –  The biggest challenge that comes with technology is that it frequently adds complexity to our lives.  This complexity means more things that can go wrong; there is a longer and steeper learning curve and in truth more things that can break.
  4. Cool to Valuable –  There are a bunch of people who are working on cutting edge technology for seniors.   This includes the LINKTank Competition that is focused on finding the next great senior focused technology.  Yet for all of that, it is less clear that this cool emerging technology provides real practical value to seniors and senior providers.

Future Articles

Over the next few months I will continue to explore with you Steve Smith’s thoughts on technology and the senior housing industry.  The next article will focus very specifically on sensor technology. What are your thoughts about technology in the senior living space?  Where do you think things are going?  Are you an early adopter of anything and how is that going or how did it go? Steve Moran