Technology Improves Housing Options for Older Adults

Technology Housing

Housing options for older adults as they age ranging widely, from remaining in their homes to moving to a nursing home – and everything in-between. Individuals may choose a housing option for a variety of reasons, such as social activities, financial stability, or increased care needs. Thankfully, technology is helping improve the quality and accessibility of each of these housing options.

Aging in Place

Many older adults prefer to stay in the neighborhoods where they have built relationships, created routines, and know where everything is located. This is referred to as “aging in place.” With nearly 4 out of 5 older adults owning their homes, aging in place can be a financially beneficial arrangement, as well.

What about older adults who want to age in place but who require or want more assistance and social activities? There are two assistive models, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and the Village model that build on already existing communities to support the needs of older adults wishing to age in place. 

NORCs are homes that were not intentionally designed to house older adults. They are formed from existing residential structures, like apartment buildings. Many require major physical and technological modifications to support this population. Depending on the size, NORCs can serve hundreds or thousands of residents.

New York City is the NORC capital with the highest number of NORCs throughout the country. While NORCs are most often in apartment buildings, they have transcended beyond cities. The NORC model has been adapted to include neighborhoods and suburban areas that house a large proportion of older adults across multiple blocks. No matter its location, the mission of NORCs remains the same – to provide relevant supports that can keep older adults independent and at home for as long as possible.

On the other hand, the Village model does not focus on specific physical structures. Instead, its mission is to create a network of businesses, volunteers, and local services within an existing community of older adults that are located within a certain geographic area, like a town. Through membership fees and donations, villages keep older adults coordinated and socially connected so they can continue to be independent and live at home. For example, a Village may provide a volunteer to drive an older adult to a medical appointment or to change a lightbulb that is too high up. They also offer regular classes and events to keep their members engaged.

A primary focus of NORCs and Villages is reducing isolation by providing residents with recreational activities, fitness classes, generational mentoring, and trips. This presents an opportunity to create digital calendars for residents, set reminders for activities, and share information across multiple languages. Popular event management platforms like Televada do just that – creating virtual and hybrid community centers where staff and residents can stay connected and continue socializing. These aging in place models also provide limited assistance in navigating care needs. Therefore, integrating technology that can help remotely monitor so many people can be useful in this setting. Devices like Alexa Together support caregivers by automatically detecting falls to call emergency services and keeping activity logs to track any extended pauses in using the device to alert loved ones to check-in.

Independent Living Communities

Independent living communities – sometimes referred to as retirement communities – are an age-restricted housing option, typically advertised for adults aged 55 and over. These communities are for relatively healthy older adults who need no medical assistance but want added social and recreational benefits. Independent living communities are known for their added conveniences like pools, game rooms, transportation, fitness centers, and sometimes housekeeping. Some of these housing types can be considered luxury living and therefore range in cost, depending on location and the amenities offered.

Often, independent living communities can be found within Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) which feature a combination of independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities on-site. This offers customizable care options for each resident should their needs change, enabling them to remain within the community. While independent living provides more social and recreational activities for its residents compared to the other housing types, integrating new technologies can drive occupancy. Having additional options outside of the retirement community for fitness classes through digital platforms like Balanced or meal delivery services like Magic Kitchen can help diversify the daily routines of the seniors.

Assisted Living Facilities

Like independent living communities, assisted living facilities are residential and require people to maintain a certain level of independence. The main difference is that residents have some  personal care assistance needs. Older adults looking to live in assisted living typically need assistance with their activities of daily living like dressing, bathing, cooking, and cleaning but do not require more skilled assistance. Assisted living facilities typically have individual apartments or studios with private baths, kitchens or kitchenettes, and shared common spaces for socialization. Like with independent living facilities, the cost of a facility can vary widely and is usually not covered by insurance.

Technology is evolving the way assisted living is provided. There are growing expectations around opportunities to connect with people both inside and outside of the facility. Products like ONSCREEN and OdessaConnect are tailored to easily connect older adults through video calls using devices they are already familiar with – their televisions. Since assisted living residents need some assistance with their day-to-day activities, there is also technology that improves the coordination and provision of care. Automatic medication dispensers like Pillo Health have gained popularity in recent years. So have communication tools such as VoiceFriend, which improves communication between residents, family caregivers, and staff.

Other technologies are providing safety for assisted living residents. For example, for older adults who need help cooking, automatic stove shut-off devices like Fire Avert can reduce any anxiety associated with accidental fires. Likewise, motion-sensor lighting for middle of the night bathroom trips can significantly reduce fall risk and other accidents. If a resident begins declining in health and needs more care, they often transition to a nursing home.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are often the housing option for older adults with extensive medical needs, dementia, or severe behavioral conditions. Compared to assisted living, it is more of a clinical and skilled medical environment than it is residential. Nursing homes are typically considered after older adults and their families have exhausted all other housing options and cannot manage care at home. Out of all the housing options mentioned thus far, nursing homes are the most costly, though there may be some coverage through insurance.

Given the high level of care and supervision required for patients, nursing homes have safety measures and around-the-clock staff in place to support residents. Technology systems that keep track of the care that is needed and provided is a growing area of technology innovation.  Such technology can create greater efficiency in tracking patient outcomes, identifying at-risk patients for life-threatening conditions, preventing and controlling the spread of infections, and lowering costs. Examples include software platforms like Yardi and Elation are also finding success in skilled nursing markets. Another area of focus is technology that supports workers in growing their skills and providing a higher quality of care. For example, Ella provides workers with a way to track challenging resident behaviors and learn about more effective interventions. Finally, nursing homes are also benefiting from many of the same technologies used in independent and assisted living facilities, focused on connecting residents with activities and socialization opportunities.

The Future of Housing and Technology

Collaboration among states, for-profit businesses, community-based initiatives, and support services are making progress in creating housing options that better meet the needs of older adults. New and assistive technology reduces bolsters opportunity for socialization, improves safety, and provides higher quality of life. As these innovative technologies continue to evolve and become more widespread, they will help to transform housing options for older adults.

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