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can be devastating, even deadly, to the aging population,” says Grace Andruszkiewicz, director of marketing and partnerships at Rendever, Inc. What’s more, those who had been able to avoid these


T


ill effects through living in communities such as senior living communities, where people come and go and social and enrichment activities are always on the menu—found their engagement severely reduced during the pandemic, for safety reasons. Laurie M. Orlov, founder of Aging and Health Tech-


nology Watch (ageinplacetech.com) studies market research and trends regarding health and aging technolo- gies and services aiming towards improving the quality of life for seniors. “Before the pandemic, it was already the case that


46 percent of women aged 75-plus were living alone. COVID-19 exacerbated the impact of living alone, in- cluding for those in senior living communities—creating a chasm between seniors, their family and friends, and even interaction with other residents.” In response, senior living communities placed a heavy emphasis on finding solutions to increase engagement. But technology presented a solution: Residents were


able to engage with loved ones while remaining socially distant or abiding by quarantine requirements. The pan- demic paved the way to introduce innovative, tech-driven solutions to encourage engagement within communities, allowing residents to stay connected with loved ones. “The pandemic also exposed technology gaps for


residents in many senior housing communities—including lack of Wi-Fi access, support of device usage, training, and help with engagement tools. Senior living organi- zations are recognizing the gaps in access precipitated by Covid-19,” writes Erin Washington, co-founder at Embodied Labs, in an email interview. “Embodied Labs is passionate about making it about


the what and not the how,” Washington writes. With the pandemic revealing the importance and diverse func- tionality of technology, senior living providers have been able to offer new solutions to drive efficiency, accessibility, innovation, and engagement for residents and staff.


STEP UP YOUR TECH GAME “This was a wake-up call for senior living providers,” says Brad Bush, chief commercial officer at Enseo, a technol- ogy company based in Plano, Texas that serves several groups including senior living.


he dangers of social isolation for older adults are well-known to those in senior living: “The data proves that the long-term effect of social isolation


“A growing number of baby boomers turn 65 this year


and are coming into the senior living space. These are a technologically savvy group of people who are going to value technology. Especially in our smart departments, we started to grasp a better understanding of why they are so important in senior living space,” he says.


ONLINE LEARNING BOOM Another perennially popular form of engagement activity is learning. Many providers hurried to pivot to virtual classrooms as social distancing became the norm. “During the height of the pandemic, our entire RUI


University curriculum went virtual or door to door,” writes RUI University academic administrator, Mary-Kate Hansford, at provider Retirement Unlimited, Inc. The free lifelong learning program was launched in 2017. The change to virtual ushered in some new choices as well as new ways of enjoying already popular programs. “We partnered with museums and universities to teach


classes via Zoom,” Hansford writes. “Although residents missed the in-person lecture, the virtual curriculum al- lowed us to connect RUI communities to partners located across Virginia, or even other states. For example, one of the residents’ favorite classes is taught by the FDR Presi- dential Museum and Library, which is located in Dutchess County, New York.” “We also set up laptops in residents’ apartments so they could participate in classes and be engaged from their apartments.” To get a better experience for the student-residents,


the provider introduced new technology: “In January, we partnered with Eversound wireless headphones, which allows residents to hear a live stream through the head- phones and adjust the volume based on their preference,” Hansford says.


SHARING EXPERIENCES Over the years, virtual reality (VR) platforms have served not only as entertainment, but also to encourage engage- ment in efforts to reduce the effects of social isolation and loneliness, as “shared experiences are the foundation of relationship building,” Andruszkiewicz says. VR can be especially appealing to those for whom con-


versation or learning programs are difficult, whether be- cause of different abilities or cognitive decline. During the pandemic, Rendever quickly developed new technology features “to help people continue to use the system to fa- cilitate very joyful and exciting experiences in a safe way,” Andruszkiewicz says.


SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021 ARGENTUM.ORG 9


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