How Technology Tools Help Senior Care Facilities Navigate the Pandemic
Technology has always played an instrumental role in senior care community daily function, but since the COVID-19 pandemic began, technology has become even more important. Facilities have increasingly used technology to keep seniors entertained and connected with family and friends, while technology has also helped to streamline workflows and facilitate contact tracing.
Kim Kessler, VP of Product Strategy at Caremerge, has seen firsthand how technology has recently taken on new and significant roles in older adult care settings.
How has the pandemic affected the use of technology tools in senior care facilities?
From our perspective, we’ve seen almost double the technology usage and adoption, especially with residents and family members. Older adults are struggling to connect to each other and to their families.
One of the best examples is the article I read where residents staged almost a walkout because they were feeling so isolated and depressed. When it comes to the pandemic for assisted living and memory care teams, technology’s useful for tracking COVID-19 prevention and recovery. From a resident’s perspective, there’s a need to access accurate health and safety information, and for social and community engagement.
What are some of the problems that senior care facilities are working to use technology to address?
Currently, COVID-19 detection, prevention and regulatory compliance is front and center for everyone within the community. Technology helps stop misinformation and confusion by getting the word out quickly, and giving leaders visibility to gaps in contact info and communication.
We saw communities use Caremerge to send over a million texts, emails and automated voicemails to staff, families and residents within the first few months of the outbreak. Technology makes it so much easier to send critical info, and pull a report for state or local health departments of exactly how and when responsible parties or family members received the information. Nursing teams across the country are taking resident vital signs daily. Technology is necessary to track, report and intelligently escalate notifications to the right clinical teams when vital signs and symptoms change.
Loneliness is the big problem, and using technology to connect residents virtually helps reduce feelings of social isolation and depression. For residents who are well, facilities are trying to help them stay well and reduce their anxiety and stress. This is especially true when we’re seeing residents responding to surveys saying, “I’m stressed and having a hard time sleeping.” This exacerbates conditions.
Technology helps by connecting them to live streams of town halls, getting them information like how to wear a mask responsibly, and updating them on changes to visitation policies. As facilities replace in-person programming with virtual activities, they’re turning to technology to reach residents.
What role do senior living technology tools play in promoting overall senior wellness?
One example is the Caremerge and Spiro100 partnership to deliver world-class mind, body, and spiritual classes. Through our partnership, we want to ensure that older adults have a safe way to participate in strength, balance, and meditation activities at the right pace and participation level for them. We introduce that in a way that doesn’t create a burden for activity directors, wellness coaches, and their staff.
Often, budgets have been cut and employees have been furloughed. We were finding they had to spend a lot of time on YouTube looking for things that would help older adults stay well in their apartment. That meant weeding through ads and videos that weren’t high quality. Spiro100 makes finding quality content and supporting resident wellness much easier.
What are some of the benefits of a community implementing senior living technology tools to promote wellness?
The biggest picture is managing the spread of COVID-19 and the risk it presents. We’re seeing some of the lowest occupancy rates, because there’s some fear and trepidation in older adults who are contemplating a move.
I’ve noticed a shift in how the aging adult living industry thinks about wellness. Now, it isn’t forward-thinking operators thinking, “Why should I promote wellness?” Instead, the aging adult living industry buys into wellness. It’s proven that if you promote wellness, you’re attracting a consumer who’s younger and healthier.
Those consumers are more satisfied with your product – an aging adult living lifestyle where you have the peace of mind knowing your needs will be addressed. Operators know they’re going to have a more satisfied resident by promoting wellness. We’ll be living lives we want to live even through the pandemic. This wellness-valued approach does wonders for word of mouth marketing, it influences the decisions we face when contemplating a move, and it impacts how operators think about their bottom line.
Which senior living technology tools have been successful in the communities that you’re working with?
One tool that has been really successful is our Family Engagement app for family members and friends with loved ones in assisted living or memory care community. They’re getting updated visitation policies, community news, and they’re using it to receive pictures and videos as new programs and activities potentially reopen.
We’ve seen that nurses and nurse aides are using our Senior Living EHR to share updates about everything from vital sign tracking to COVID testing and hospitalization tracking to providing family members with resident-specific information about how their loved one is thriving or recovering.
Staff from communities have also been using the Caremerge Staff App to save time in their day. The app helps support Wellness and Life Enrichment programming. This would normally be done on a computer, but the app lets staff make activity programming updates or communicate with families right from their smartphone or tablet.
In communities where residents are more independent, then technology’s playing a role in community engagement and information. Residents are getting updates through the web and IOS/Android apps. They’re using these options to get details on business hours, restaurant reopenings, and reservation details. We have a variety of different tools for different care settings, and they all make sure that residents get up-to-date information and never yesterday’s news.
What is the process like for seniors as they learn to use and navigate this technology?
It’s far more intuitive than it was even two years ago. Caremerge Voice and Alexa has helped a lot with that. For many people, technology is a lot more mainstream. Messaging is shared in TV commercials and we often talk to residents whose children have helped them feel more comfortable with Alexa or a Google device. You don’t need training – you speak to it and it’s intuitive in its response. That’s a great way to democratize how info is shared.
Our technology works with a voice access point or a tablet that you’re already comfortable with. You can use this technology with a desktop interface, too. These are personalized and individualized information modes, so residents can use technology in a way that’s comfortable for them.
TV channels are still a successful media type to communicate and engage with residents. You can turn on your TV and you feel like you’re sitting in an auditorium town hall listening to your executive director give information. Our job is to meet residents where they are, then say, “Here, turn your TV to Channel 23. Or use your smartphone.”
How have residents and caregivers responded to the implementation of these technology tools?
They’re excited about it, especially staff who are looking to be more efficient with their time. For a lot of these teams, a staff member may have formerly been the activity director with a focus on great programming. COVID hits and now that staff person is also the bus driver and has to organize residents and dining services.
They’re multitasking, so they’re thrilled that technology could provide a way to be more efficient with their time. Technology lets them provide better care and create that human connection instead of spending that hour at their office writing reports at the end of the day.
When working with older adults, they understand what’s in it for them. User-friendly technology helps them feel connected when the restaurant is closed or their clubs are shut down. They also value the staff members supporting them and the sense of community that’s often what attracted them to move in in the first place.
Overwhelmingly, they say, “I’m really happy about this if it’s going to save Mrs. Smith time.” That sense of community in these aging adult care communities is a real thing, a real culture, and I think that technology helps us to create that virtually at a time when we really felt disconnected from each other.
Do you have any advice on how a senior living community can choose the technology that’s best for its residents?
I think ask the residents. When choosing the technology, you have to think about your staff constraints and who’s going to own that content, but also ask your residents, “What’s important to you?” Many communities have tech committees or resident councils.
When facilities give them the opportunity to be a part of that process, that’s where we find that communities tend to be the most successful. Residents are stakeholders at that table and their needs are heard. We can interface with them and say, “Here’s what it looks like, here’s where your information would appear.” Once residents have a way of experiencing that, things fall into place more easily in training.
What is the setup process like, and what challenges might a senior living community face when implementing these tools?
It depends on the technology. With Spiro100, there is no setup. Integrations are a fast solution, and there’s no hardware component. The setup could look like a lunch and learn broadcast on a TV channel explaining that this app is available to you, here are three steps to download it, and here’s how you can access your username and password.
In other communities, it might look a little different if they’re using the Family Engagement app or another solution.
Implementing Technology Solutions
Caremerge offers many solutions for older adult care facilities that can help them navigate the pandemic and beyond. To learn more, you can request a demo to identify the solutions that may be right for your facility.
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