Independent living, keeping connected, staying healthy, new opportunities and lifelong learning at your fingertips
by Lisa M Cini, Transformational Senior Living Expert Improving the Quality of Aging by Design
Learning new technologies can be daunting, and at times may seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But as members of the Baby Boomer generation reach retirement age, there are plenty of good reasons to make sure they’re up to date with the latest technology.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be difficult. Scott Moody, who’s been developing technology specifically designed for seniors with the company he founded, K4Connect, disputes the common perception that older adults are uncomfortable with technology, and says he has the data to back it up.
“What they don’t like is tech designed for 25-year-olds with bigger fonts,” Moody said. “I actually find that the premise that older adults don’t like technology is the fault of the people designing the technology.”
K4Connect’s first product is a comprehensive software platform for senior living communities that allows community residents to turn on lights, adjust the heat in their apartment, lock doors, track their health and communicate with neighbors.
The platform integrates other technologies that would be difficult for older adults to install and learn individually, but collectively can be even more useful for them than for younger folks, Moody says.
Tech for independent living
Moody points out that a lot of products currently available might be marketed toward younger people but could be even more useful for older adults and seniors. For example, a wireless doorbell and lock may be appealing for a younger, healthier person who just doesn’t want to get off the couch, but for an older adult with mobility issues, it could be crucial.
“That really provides utility, it’s not just a matter of convenience,” Moody says. This type of technology could lower the risk of a fall or injury, for example. “The whole bevy of home automation products really provides a lot of demonstrable value to the people we serve,” he says.
Many of these kinds of “smart home” products don’t even represent a high-tech upgrade and are easily available at hardware stores and drug stores.
Other convenience-centered technology solutions could be crucial to seniors as well. Delivery services like Instacart and Postmates may be appealing to people who don’t feel like going grocery shopping, but a boon for seniors who find it difficult or exhausting.
Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft can allow seniors to run errands even when they find driving difficult, and some designed specifically for seniors have even cropped up recently.
Many older adults, particularly those with mobility issues, tend to become increasingly isolated from friends and family with age. Learning technology can offer to stay connected even if they’re unable to leave the house as much, Moody says.
But, he points out, some of the prominent social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter aren’t necessarily useful for this kind of connection. “We’re not trying to keep the older adults’ faces glued to the information all the time,” Moody said. “Digital connection fosters personal connection.”
For example, Moody says, in senior living communities, internal communication tools can help residents stay connected with each other on a local level. Also, if friends and family are unable to visit often, they can keep in touch via communication tools like video calls, so they’re not already up to date on what’s happening with their loved one when they are able to show up.
Such strong social engagements can help keep people happier and healthier. An active social life is important for happiness and “your happiness plays directly to your health,” Moody says.
Lisa Cini, the owner of Mosaic Design Studio, which designs senior living community interiors, points out that technology can also be useful in tracking health data, which is great for younger people trying to keep track of their exercise, but even more important later in life.
Apps for smartphones and connected watches that track baseline health data have become more popular in recent years, which can help seniors keep an eye on their health data or give them a nudge to stay in shape, Cini said.
“The main device I recommend is an FDA-approved EKG monitor that pairs with your smartphone to give you insights on heart health – this is a literal lifesaver in that it can predict an impending heart attack,” she says.
Another new device available is a sugar monitor, which can be helpful for making better dietary choices, particularly for those who may have a chronic condition like diabetes that necessitates strict diet.
Knox, who tutors through the Varsity Tutors platform, says that with a little help, older adults can start whole new careers in technology. The Varsity Learning platform is an interactive application that allows enrollees to share work with tutors and chat over video.
Knox says she tutored one Baby Boomer named Mark, who left the U.S. Marine Corps after 17 years to pursue a new position as an engineer with AT&T. But he found himself at a technical disadvantage in his new job and lacked the skills, particularly computer programming skills, that would be necessary to advance.
He was a quick study, Knox says. “Mark was amazed by the things he could accomplish with technology and truly enjoyed learning new skills,” she said. “With every assignment, Mark became more confident in his work and was excited to share it with others.”
While she doesn’t think that everyone needs to learn computer programming in his or her work, keeping up with tech skills is important to compete in today’s work environment. Knox emphasizes the importance of mastering operating systems and basic professional software like Microsoft Office.
Continuing education doesn’t have to be about professional advancement, though. In fact, lifelong learning in itself can be hugely beneficial for older adults: keeping their minds active can help them stay healthy.
Furthermore, knowledge of the world can help keep older adults more confident and functional with age, Cini points out.
“I highly recommend podcasts and blogs as an easy means of checking in on the latest and greatest or learning about a particular topic that you encountered and found confusing,” she says.
Lisa Cini ASID, IIDA, an award-winning, internationally-recognized designer, has more than 25 years’ experience developing interiors that improve quality of life for seniors. She has authored: The Future is Here: Senior Living Reimagined, and Hive: The Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living, where Lisa describes her own families multi-generational social experiment and her latest book, BOOM: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology, so that you can Preserve Your Independent Lifestyle & Thrive.