Long-term care organizations are beginning to embrace technology’s role in improving resident engagement, as well as its positive effects on resident socialization and wellness. Technology has a different significance for seniors in LTC communities, directly influencing two of the top three factors for healthy aging: Maintaining a sense of independence and staying connected with family and friends, according to UnitedHealthcare’s 100@100 Survey

As older adults continue to embrace technology, LTC organizations need to adopt new technology capabilities to provide residents with the full benefits of being connected and engaged with their communities, friends and family.

Resident engagement today: room to grow

Resident engagement is an emerging trend within LTC, and as it matures, organizations have significant room to grow and improve on their engagement strategies. A growing number of organizations are implementing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies or providing residents with devices such as laptops or tablets.

Of organizations that provide residents with devices, 38% report fewer than a quarter of their residents actually have access to the devices, according to CDW Healthcare’s Long-term Care study.  Furthermore, many organizations offer wireless network availability for residents’ personal devices, but the same study found under 10% offer formal support for devices, which can include enablement and troubleshooting. 

The digital divide is another trend influencing the state of resident engagement within LTC. Older adults want to connect with their family and friends, and the Internet is the easiest, quickest way to make it happen.  To date, however, older adults have not been using technology to engage and communicate nearly as much as other age segments.  

PEW Research’s Older Adults and Technology Use study found 99% of children are online and using technology to stay connected, compared to only 65% of seniors.  With socialization being the largest positive influence on longevity, organizations must motivate and educate older adults to use technology through educational programs, role modeling and expanded access to bridge the digital divide — giving many seniors who are not currently digitally connecting with their family a means of doing so.

Tech trends improve engagement

Having an effective mobile strategy is becoming increasingly important for organizations to improve resident engagement. Mobile devices show promising effects on the way residents engage with each other and their families. Not only do devices help seniors connect, but with proper enablement from LTC organizations, they also provide access to the Internet – broadening access to new information while providing a sense of independence.

In a tablet adoption and ramifications study conducted by Case Western Reserve University and a senior living community in Fremont, CA, each resident received their own tablet to determine the effects of device access on residents. The university observed that the tablets served as a “digital concierge,” giving residents an opportunity to better engage with their community through anytime, anywhere access to photos, email and the Internet.

Benefits:  serving residents’ digital needs

The Mayo Clinic investigated the effects of frequent technology use on cognitive impairment and dementia in its Computer Activities, Physical Exercise, Aging, and Mild Cognitive Impairment study, concluding there is a connection between using a computer and cognitive functions for adults aged 70 and older. The study showed learning new cognitive abilities, such as computer skills, mild exercise or searching the Internet, allows the brain to protect itself from, and even decrease, mild cognitive impairment by 50%. Teaching a new skill or idea — such as device training — stimulates the brain, leading to improved overall cognitive function. 

Offering device and technology classes as part of your programming can keep residents engaged. These classes are frequently widely and consistently attended; participants demonstrate significant commitment to initial and continued device use education; and they become successful using devices. With these skills, the residents can then connect with family and friends more easily and frequently.

Digital challenges: managing and protecting resident devices

Device access can be challenging for LTC organizations with limited resources, as they must properly manage and secure the devices. Mobile device management solutions enable organizations to comprehensively manage all devices centrally, so that IT staff members aren’t required to configure and manage each device separately. Further, from a security standpoint, MDM solutions provide organizations with additional security protections as a result of restricting certain data from devices and even locking them down in the event of a theft.

Wireless infrastructure requirements also are changing. In the past, consumer-grade wireless networks were sufficient for residents’ limited technology needs; however, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi is becoming more standard. Facilities must provide wireless infrastructure that can support all resident devices – as well as devices belonging to visiting friends and family.

LTC organizations must remain competitive

Beyond patient engagement, technology adoption and innovation play a growing role in LTC organizations’ marketing strategies as they compete to attract and work to retain residents. As older adults become more accustomed to being online, LTC organizations must work to establish and maintain the connectivity standard that these individuals increasingly expect. Digital strategies can become a market differentiator. 

Staff access to technology, especially mobile devices, also plays an important role in patient care, which also factors into an organization’s ability to compete. Implementing mobile technology, such as tablets and mobile clinical applications, can optimize and streamline workflow, resulting in faster decision making through quicker access to patient information, more efficient data charting and improved research development.  These benefits contribute to improved patient care, making an LTC organization even more appealing to potential residents.

Engagement is vital for LTC organizations to promote a happy and healthy lifestyle for their residents.  By providing comprehensive technology tools, as well as educational programs, organizations can help reduce the emotional apprehension many older adults may feel about using mobile devices and  eliminate the physical constraints of connecting with family and friends over long distances – all while providing a new outlet for intellectual stimulation. It is not only necessary for LTC organizations to accommodate their residents’ physical needs, but also critically, their ever-growing digital needs. 

Ginna Baik is a business development executive at CDW Healthcare.