This article is sponsored by Sentrics. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News speaks with Sarah Thomas, Executive Aging Innovation Strategist at Delight by Design and Sentrics Advisory Board Member, to learn how the senior housing industry is handling uptake. technology as the technology-driven resident population grows. . Thomas explains what drives seniors to embrace technology and how operators are capitalizing on the new opportunities associated with this trend.
Senior Housing News: What professional experiences do you draw the most from in your role today?
Sarah Thomas: I am an occupational therapist, with 20 years of experience in aging, technology and human-centered design. I’ve always met people where they are and acted as a catalyst to get them where they want to go, and that can be an individual, a product, a company, or a system. I use the same process to develop products that create accessible, beautiful and delicious experiences for all ages.
I have helped hundreds of startups with product development, market entry and growth. I have helped large companies in change management, innovation strategy and technological integration. When I joined the Sentrics Advisory Council, I started to take an interest in the customer journey, as well as the UI and UX of the product. I supported a market entry strategy and expansion into post-acute care. Because I have led global innovation at Genesis for years and have also been an executive in residence at Aging2.0, I have a lot of experience in product development, market development and expansion, especially in agetech. I am delighted to be a part of the Sentrics board.
What drove older people to embrace technology in greater numbers?
Thomas: We have all increased the adoption of technology to meet our need for communication. Whether it’s work, social, education, entertainment or resources, technology has enabled us to move forward in unprecedented circumstances. If you look at some of the trends around tech adoption, everyone is looking for relief and laughter to enhance their life experience.
Consumer electronics and engagement with technology are on the rise across all age groups. We see this in senior communities across the board for the same reasons: a desire for greater connection, better access to resources, and greater convenience. Many of these trends are here to stay outside the needs and wants of consumers.
What are the operators of retirement homes doing to embrace this new focus on technology adoption and consumerism?
Thomas: Many operators of retirement homes recognized early on that they needed to provide additional access to technology to leverage resources and connect with the community. In addition to investing in computer hardware, they also recognized opportunities to create efficiencies in staffing and disseminating information to residents and their families. They recognized the need for technical support, and not only were they able to deploy these technologies, but they also prepared for questions that concern them. They often invested in partnership solutions that supported these newly adopted technologies.
We are seeing more technical concierge services, technical support lines and individual IT professionals in-house to support the adoption of new technologies. Operators of retirement homes have seen increased use of consumer technology and have supported adoption in a number of ways.
What are the most exciting and innovative ways that you have seen operators of senior residences use technology in the design of their programs, spaces and resident experiences?
Thomas: I’ve been doing this for 20 years and adoption can be slow. This hesitation can create barriers to entry for some of these trends. Many operators resisted the technologies used by the general population because they did not know how to deploy them without disrupting their workflow or changing their processes.
When change became necessary, creativity and problem solving improved in this industry, so the principles of design thinking were applied. Operators asked, “How could we improve social ties in times of isolation? They looked for solutions instead of just identifying the challenges of deployment. With the addition of live streaming, virtual classes, telehealth tours, and food delivery, they were able to move forward.
They had staffing issues which led to the use of delivery robots. Disinfection challenges have enabled the use of UV robots or UV drones – a different level of technology to improve the living environment and the safety of residents. What is exciting for me is the permanence of this adoption. We finally think differently about how to operationalize these technologies, support them and make them succeed in our communities.
Many communities are challenged to support both the technology they sponsor and the technology that older people bring with them. What advice do you have for operators who are struggling to support multiple types of technologies?
Thomas: I think it is imperative to realize that this technological movement will only grow. It is not temporary. We need to see better education and training of staff for on-site roles. We also need better support for the technological needs of consumers. While this may not be part of the traditional job description, staff want to be informed so that they are better able to answer questions when they arise. Improving professional development in these areas and integrating training are essential.
We also need an increase in partnerships to deliver educational workshops to both staff and residents. Whether you outsource it and have a partner to support it, or create a role internally, it will encourage residents and staff to feel more comfortable with the technology and tools being used. To improve results and create better engagement across the organization, we need to provide additional training and support as a core competency.
What are the most essential design principles when it comes to creating technology products for the elderly?
Thomas: I am a big advocate of human-centered design. Technology really needs to be accessible to everyone. When designing products, we not only look for visual appeal, but also visual accessibility, readability, adaptability, flexibility and personalization. If there is a hearing component, can the user adjust the sound or connect to a speaker or other assistive sound solution? Products should be intuitive at any age. They should be tested along the way by a variety of end users. Is this clear for the intended use case, and is it easy to use without additional support or instruction? Is it accessible in a multi-level approach with many individuals and if not, how can the function be improved?
Sentrics does a great job developing all of its products and integrating partner solutions. As it acquires more technology, the goal is to continue this human-centered design by having an advisory board and a diverse user group to improve the product design. I am always excited to work with companies like Sentrics because they focus on the customer journey from start to finish. I am delighted to be able to work with their products and to help improve them.
What advice can you offer to communities looking to break the barrier to user adoption?
Thomas: It’s a shift towards the trial and error mentality. Often times people are worried about breaking something or doing something wrong. I think it’s important for us to create a safe environment for residents to play, create, explore, and do no harm. We can help them realize that it’s okay to try something, to support them as they try new things, especially new technologies. The apprehension about trying new solutions is mainly based on fear, so how do we eliminate this fear? If it’s tech, we can provide education or support, or we can at least provide a safe environment to try things and fail. This is when the greatest problem solving happens.
Entering this year, no one really knew what to expect. What’s been the biggest surprise in senior housing this year, and what impact do you think this surprise will have on the industry next year?
Thomas: The people in this industry are some of the most caring, dedicated and resilient people we will meet in life. During the pandemic, everyone in the world experienced some sort of change. They had a change of roles. They educated the children at home. Their living conditions have changed. Their social commitments and their social circles have shrunk and changed enormously. There has been a loss of friends and family, but the lives of the elderly, in many ways, have become stronger. As a community and industry, we have realized that people come forward and continue to come forward.
They adapt and create solutions to big challenges. They serve others and work together to advance the industry’s mission. The pandemic has shown that this group of individuals are so dedicated to this space that they can come out even stronger, despite the constant pressures, changes and assaults on the system. For me, it’s not so much of a surprise, but a nice reminder that we are surrounded by some really great people doing great things.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sentrics offers a comprehensive suite of data-driven platforms that provide the insight and control needed to turn care from reagents into predictive. To learn more, visit sentrics.net.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring top executives discussing the trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact [email protected]