Providers, Residents Must Be Partners with Technology — Not Just Users

With the aging population and the expansion of all kinds of senior living settings, smart technology has frequently been identified as a way to make residents’ and providers’ lives easier.

But all too often, commercially available tech isn’t designed with seniors’ needs in mind, one researcher noted — and it’s high time that both residents and operators get a seat at the table.

“There are all kinds of amazing things that are developed in research laboratories all over the world, but very few of them get to be in your communities,” Wendy Rogers, who directs the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory at the University of Illinois, told an audience at LeadingAge Illinois’s annual conference in Schaumburg, Ill on Tuesday. “And that’s where we fail.”

For instance, Rogers cited early research showing that use of certain technologies in a skilled nursing setting could ease caregiver strains, a major concern for operators in the space. In addition, a home assistant such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home could be used in a SNF resident’s room to allow her some measure of control over her living space, improving mood and satisfaction.

“Nurses find value in giving the resident something to occupy them while they’re trying to do their jobs, something that’s engaging,” she said.

That’s why Rogers and her team have focused on ways that the end users of technology actually interact with the products on a day-to-day basis. The University of Illinois researchers have worked with Clark Lindsey — a non-profit continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Urbana, Ill. that provides a variety of services, including skilled care — to explore how seniors specifically use the Amazon Echo home assistant.

The first order of business was determining what seniors who have used the products for at least a month thought about them. Some appreciated the sound quality the Echo provides when listening to music, while others found it difficult to set up. The second step was finding out what the seniors wished the technology could do for them, with the residents saying they wanted to set reminders to take their medication, or even use the Echo to turn on their coffee pots.

And therein lies the disconnect between tech and providers.

“A lot of these things can probably already be done, but they didn’t get how to make it do that,” Rogers said, noting that there is frequently little support for providers or residents about how to maximize the value of technology.

The University of Illinois team includes engineers who could potentially develop novel solutions to the seniors’ problems, with an emphasis on making sure providers offer input whenever possible.

The overarching goal, Rogers said, is creating a world where technology is designed for human use. To ilustrate the point, she gave a decidedly low-tech example: a soap dish in her shower that didn’t have a lip on it, causing the bar to slip off.

“That’s a little thing that’s annoying, but I had to bend down and pick up the soap,” she said. “It increased my risk of fall. And when you get to technology, there are even more problems.”

Written by Alex Spanko

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Alex Spanko on Twitter
Alex Spanko
Alex covers the long-term health care industry for Aging Media Network, with a specific interest in the intersection of finance and policy. Outside of work, he reads nonfiction, experiments in the kitchen, yells at Mets games, and enjoys pretty much any type of whiskey or scotch — often all at the same time.

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