Are you keeping up with technology? Is it keeping up with you?

By Pam McDonald

Back in September Troy Griffiths, CEO of Vigil Health Solutions, a Senior Housing Forum partner, and Jerry Billman, Executive Director of the Chapel Grove Inn in Heath, Ohio, about 25 miles northeast of Columbus, participated on a panel at an Ohio LeadingAge Conference. Steve Moran, Senior Housing Forum Publisher, facilitated the discussion.

The session was titled “Google Glass, iWatches and Wireless Sensors for Caregivers and Senior Living Communities” and focused on the use and impact of technology in the senior living space.

Troy has volumes of firsthand experience with the industry’s adoption of technology solutions that could improve the quality of life for seniors since Vigil offers providers an innovative computer- and cloud-based, wired and wireless, emergency alert and response system. Jerry, as a community manager, represents the larger group of end-users. Steve tracks the subject for his blog readers, is a technology aficionado, and early adopter.

Their consensus is that senior living is way behind the curve when it comes to adoption of technology. Steve noted, “Whenever I speak to senior living leaders about technology, I ask how many in the audience have communities where WiFi is pervasive. This session,” he noted, “is the first time that more than half of you raised your hands – an encouraging sign.”

Steve continued that when he asked what technology participants use and love, only their call system was offered up. And he when he asked what technology made participants’ jobs easier, discouragingly, “Not a single person offered up a single piece of technology.”

Optimistically panelists speculated that nothing came to mind because the best technology senior living is using works so well it does not even seem like technology.  For example, billing and accounting software, and OnShift (another Senior Housing Forum partner) applications that include cloud-based staff scheduling and management software.

Challenges To Adoption

Troy, Jerry and Steve noted that there are several big challenges faced by senior living with it comes to technology:

  • Figuring out (or creating) technology that decreases workload is just plain tough to do. Much of what is currently available adds to the workload. Real benefits to the community and the residents are not so obvious.

  • All of this technology is producing lots of data, but it is hard to know what to do with the information. Answers to two questions help turn data into actionable items: 1) what does it mean? and 2) how does it impact senior living teams?

  • Hardly any of the emerging technology for senior living works together, creating lots of stuff, lots of data, lots of confusion, and lots of log-on credentials

  • Technology and it’s implementation is expensive

  • Battery life is still an issue

  • Getting team members to embrace, use, and, even love, technology is tough

The Cool Stuff

Because the world of technology is changing so rapidly, what seemed promising just a year ago may not look so promising today. As the panelists noted, there can be no better example than Google Glass. A year ago, it was the coolest toy to have, Google employees were expected to wear them, and potential buyers had to join a waiting list to purchase them. Today, if you go to eBay you will find hundreds for sale – many at a discounted (a relative term) price. It turns out what seems the latest cool thing may fizzle.

But, the panelists identified some items and applications that hold real promise:

  • Wearables, like Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, and Samsung. Today no one has really figured out how to make this all come together in a senior living setting, but at some point, it seems likely that seniors in communities will wear these devices and community staff will be able to use the data to help seniors stay healthier

  • If cost and battery life problems can be solved, there is great promise to do more sophisticated wander management. Imagine a device a senior could wear that would track his/her location in or outside the community. If a resident moves outside the community’s geofence, GPS would kick in to locate them. While the technology is feasible today, it is not practical

  • Imagine a Google Glass-type device or wearable wristband that would allow caregivers to pull up a wide range of health-related data for residents, and to record the care being provided

Troy, Jerry and Steve agreed that being cool is just not enough. To become widely used in senior living, technology has to be practical, cost effective, and provide a demonstrable return on investment for the community.