Just a decade ago the term ‘silver surfers’ was common media parlance for an older person attempting to use technology. Looking back now, the way it was used was patronising, and derogatory.
More older people are becoming just as in tune with technological advances as those who are native to them – internet use in the 65-74 age group rose from 52% in 2011 to 83% in 2019, for example. Plus, technology brings many benefits that can improve the quality of life for those later years.
So, as a developer and operator of retirement villages, it has never been more important to make sure the communities we create and operate embrace the latest technology and not treat it as an afterthought for the over 65s.
Being socially connected, whether to friends or family, has been linked to improved health and wellbeing outcomes. Simply having the ability to easily talk greatly reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation. Older adults who lack social connections or report frequently feeling lonely tend to suffer from higher rates of illness, depression and cognitive decline – something you wouldn’t wish on an enemy, let alone a family member. As this pandemic has highlighted, when face-to-face contact isn’t safe, technology can help fill the gap and stave off loneliness.
We have run exercise classes and wine tastings and choir sessions for the residents in our villages via platforms like Zoom, and they have used this technology to stay in contact with family members and friends. It is therefore so important to make sure properties built for older people have the capacity for a good broadband connection. It’s not just homes for young families where the kids are constantly gaming that need it. This is why all our villages will be built with fibre-optic cabling installed.
Another example of a way in which technology can help build social connections and improve the quality of life for older people is the app Cubigo. The software is an easy way of connecting our village teams and residents so the latter can make the most of the services and active lifestyle we offer and our teams can deliver the best support.
Residents download the app onto their own devices and use this to get their weekly newsletter with what’s going on in the village, see announcements from the village team, sign up for events and activities (and see if their friends have signed up too), book a table in the restaurant, and directly contact housekeeping and maintenance if there’s an issue they need help within their home.
As well as providing an app for residents, we also install a tablet in each home that asks residents how they are every day. If they don’t respond by a certain time each day, our teams discreetly check in that everything is okay, potentially saving a life if someone is injured or ill.
Further to this, we provide residents with pendant alarms that alert Careline when pressed. Apple is likewise a market leader in the wearable health tech space. The latest iteration monitors everything from blood oxygen to heart rate and can detect falls immediately.
While it’s important we can respond quickly when a resident is unwell, preventing ill health by keeping residents in good shape should also be the focus for those developing properties for the over 65s. This is why we’ve also started to introduce eGym equipment to our villages; to help them to stay fit, healthy, and out of hospital.
eGym equipment creates personalised fitness and strength training exercises for each user. The equipment is not intimidating; once set up by one of our team, it acts as a virtual personal trainer, adapting your exercise programme to you as you go. Three of our villages have the eGym equipment presently, and its personalised nature means we have around 50% of residents in those villages using the gym, compared to just 10% in our other villages which have traditional gym equipment. One of eGym’s biggest fans is a 103-year-old resident who works out on the equipment three times a week in a three-piece suit!
We’ve seen time and again how technology can improve every aspect of older people’s lives – in the same way, it has immeasurably improved our own. The stigma around older people and technology has long been misplaced and deserves to be consigned to history. A ‘silver surfer’ in 2020 is more likely to be on the tide taking selfies than struggling on an old PC!
*Jamie Bunce is chief executive of Inspired Villages