By Sonya Niess, MPH
In May, I attended the annual Argentum Conference at the San Diego Convention Center. To those who are unfamiliar, Argentum is an annual national conference focused on senior living communities. The conference topics cover many areas of interest ranging from general operations such as resident safety and staff retention to marketing and executive leadership skills. One topic of particular interest is technology in senior living.
I attended a technology session that began with a life-size AI machine—a woman complete with “personality” and humor. Her features were very human-like but the back of her head was devoid of “skin” so that we could see the inner workings of her robotic brain. It was captivating, but to be honest, a little creepy. The two speakers that followed went on to explain how technology is changing senior living and showed a video on what not to do with our older adults and technology. The take-home message from the last speaker was to start small with technology and scale up. Although I feel this is good advice, I was left feeling that there has to be more to this. With so many technological options on the market, sorting through them all and knowing what might work well and what might not, is a very daunting task.
Full disclosure: I work for one of these technology companies. I left my 10 plus year career in non-profit public health to join a technology company that I feel has a public health heart and mission. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have left my field. The promise of what technology can bring without replacing the human element is so critical at this juncture in time where we have booming technological advancements to help us grow, thrive, and connect. Yet why do we feel more disconnected than ever before? As we look to technology for answers, I am pulled into thinking about all the levels where technology can have a positive play on our health, and in particular, the health of our older adults. We must not only focus on the individual level. Our attention needs to scale all the way to cultural and societal levels and how they interrelate. The Social Ecological Model (SEM) is a theoretical framework that can help contextualize this concept.
This framework can help guide us in our search for a technological answer that addresses all or many areas of this interrelationship between the individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and public policy. We cannot expect to make effective change in just one area. All areas must be addressed to some degree or another if we are to be successful in shifting the dialogue to increase the health, well-being, and connectedness of our older adults.
Though it’s ideal to have a technology that addresses all areas, you will be hard pressed to find one that does. In essence, the SEM, as it relates to technology in senior living, is there to serve as a guide—a reminder of the larger picture at hand.
Over the past few months, while talking with several senior living communities, both small and large, I have noticed a level of excitement from engagement directors who can see the value and impact technology can have on their workflows and processes. At the same time, I can feel the hesitancy to try something new. There are many factors to consider when adopting new technology for your community, especially if you have multiple communities. Recently, one senior living community told me they were doing a needs assessment on technology for their communities. I thought that was wonderful but I also realized how much time and resources it takes to conduct a full-on needs assessment.
From our conversations with senior living communities, the sessions we attended at the Argentum Conference, and keeping the SEM in mind, our team created a technology checklist of questions to ask when assessing technology for senior living communities. In a way, it’s an expedited needs assessment. It is a tool to be used by senior living communities to help them determine which technologies might work best for them.
Click below for printable versions of this article and the Assessing Technology Checklist.