Communities expand use of technology
The rapid spread of the coronavirus is quickly dispelling the idea that older adults won’t use and can’t understand advanced technology. Several senior living communities in the D.C. area are implementing new technological innovations, or are relying more heavily on established ones, due to the isolation imposed in response to the pandemic.
“These perceived boundaries of seniors with technology aren’t as bad as we think,” said Matt Reilly, the director of innovation and technology at Knollwood, a life plan community in Washington, D.C. “With some hand holding, people pick it up really fast.”
Much of this technology is integral to maintaining the safety of residents in senior living communities. Older adults, particularly those with chronic conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease, among others, are in the high-risk category for complications from COVID-19 — the severe, even deadly, disease caused by the coronavirus.
As a part of the nonprofit Army Distaff Foundation, Knollwood is no stranger to experimenting with technological innovation.
In 2018, it was the first senior living community in the nation to use the EksoGT device, which is a battery-powered, adjustable suit that helps with walking and balance for people with spinal cord and orthopedic injuries or who have suffered a stroke.
“Retirement communities are places that you go to stay healthier and independent longer,” Reilly said. By using advanced technology like the EksoGT device, “We improve longevity, quality of life and care outcomes.”
Tech for yoga, telehealth, therapy
During the coronavirus pandemic, Knollwood has shifted to projects focused more on social distancing. One is Om Practice, which provides one-on-one virtual yoga classes.
The staff even gives residents iPads if they don’t have a laptop with a web camera and microphone. “We don’t want any excuses to not participate, if they want to,” Reilly said.
Another is Pembo Health, which has remote diagnostic tools that connect to a confidential, virtual meeting space. A Knollwood nurse can administer basic vital checks and help set up the telehealth conference call.
In addition, Knollwood staff is preparing to deploy Xr Health, which will make it the first community in the world to use virtual reality to facilitate group therapy sessions.
It is also looking to incorporate “social assistance robotics,” which utilizes an autonomous robot that can interact and communicate with people.
“Social help is just as important as psychological help, which is just as important as physical health,” Reilly said.
Robots boost morale
Maplewood, a senior living community with locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Ohio (not to be confused with Maplewood Park in this area) has implemented the use of robotics to assist their residents since the beginning of the pandemic.
The temi robot, created by an Israeli start-up in 2016, is the first robot to interact with humans using self-learning navigation, video and audio, and advanced artificial intelligence.
Martha Yeater, a Maplewood resident in Twinsburg, Ohio, uses the robot to receive grocery deliveries and to play dance music, live concerts and guided classes.
“It was surprisingly easy to learn how to interact with robots, and we all get a kick out of seeing how advanced technology has become,” she said.
Using the 10-inch HD screen, Yeater has also enjoyed participating in video calls with loved ones using temi. “Since COVID made it unable for us to leave the community or have visitors, [the temi robot] added a level of communication and connection I think we all had missed,” she said.
Individualized screen time
Deploying a robot to roam the halls of senior living communities isn’t the only way residents can receive quality interaction with the help of technology.
Since 2017, Falcon’s Landing in Sterling, Virginia, has been using iN2L, a touch screen with personalized content to support social interaction, education and cognitive and physical therapy, according to recreation manager Lauren Cratty.
With this technology, each resident can create their own page for the topics that interest them, including music, movies and faith groups. Most popularly, iN2L also hosts group activities, such as exercise classes.
Due to the pandemic, unfortunately, those types of gatherings are currently prohibited. Instead, the Falcon’s Landing staff has been rolling the two iN2L screens, one 65 inches and the other 22 inches, to the residents’ rooms for video chats.
“The sound quality is excellent, and it’s a lot easier for the residents to see” than a cellphone or iPad, Cratty said.
Many communities like Falcon’s Landing have been using advanced technology for years. Due to the pandemic, those that haven’t are now reevaluating their policies and biases relating to older adults and technology.
“COVID-19 has really hastened the need,” Knollwood’s Reilly said. “It created a sense of urgency for communities that maybe weren’t looking at technological services or ways of improving.”