COVID-19 Update: Safety Today and Every Day. Learn more

Put the Brakes on Isolation: Keys to Driving Resident Engagement

Senior Living Strategy August 6, 2020

Humans are social creatures. From birth, companionship and connection play a central role in the state of a person’s wellbeing. The need for regular communion with others doesn’t change when you grow older. So, it shouldn’t be ignored. 

For senior living communities, resident isolation—with all of its negative social, behavioral, and health ramifications—is something that must be proactively resisted. 

Traditionally, this has been accomplished by a combination of community programming and social engagement activities. But now that COVID-19 has restricted social interactions, senior living communities have been forced to rethink resident engagement from an entirely new angle—one that doesn’t rely on physical contact. 

Today senior living communities are turning to technology to enact a whole-person engagement approach. 

 

The Ramifications of COVID-19 on Resident Engagement

Until recently, the majority of community programming encouraged residents to leave their apartments and socialize. By spending time with others, most residents receive the social stimulation they need.  

To protect these vulnerable populations from Coronavirus, most communities have imposed strict limitations on social gatherings. This self-imposed social isolation has amplified three significant issues senior living communities were already wrestling with prior to the pandemic: 

 

Residents Are Combating Loneliness 

Loneliness—the feeling of empty isolation and not being wanted—is harmful to any person, particularly for prolonged periods of time. It’s especially detrimental for the elderly. Several studies have found that isolation is one of the primary predictors of significant health problems, including death:

  • A UCSF study1 found that 43% of the elderly surveyed felt completely alone, despite the fact that only 18% of them lived by themselves. They discovered that lonely residents were at higher risk for functional decline and death.  
  • A National Institute of Aging2 (NIA) study discovered that isolation impacts the body similarly to chronic stress. It can impair immune responses and leave seniors vulnerable to both physical and mental health issues. 

 

Residents Feel Helpless 

Residents who were actively participating in their communities, reaching out to neighbors, and being a positive advocate, are now having to spend more time alone in their apartments. Senior living communities need to increase their efforts to ensure residents have the same opportunity to be a force for good, just in a different way. This will give them purpose and strength. 

 

Residents Are Bored

The advent of streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO have opened up a world of entertainment options. While Netflix binges make for great diversions, they’re just that—a distraction, a temporary salve for a much larger issue. That problem is boredom.  

Simply planting a person in front of a TV is no substitute for meaningful engagement. Think about BINGO. Residents love it because it gives them a sense of achievement, a way to interact, compete, and celebrate with their community. 

But even the most fulfilling activities can become stale if it’s a resident’s only option for meaningful engagement. This begs the question: what other ways can you provide the same kind of fulfillment without simply repeating BINGO every day? 

To combat boredom, senior living communities can give residents more choices and flexibility—an essential component of their wellbeing.  

 

It’s Time to Rethink Engagement 

It’s time to focus on resident wellbeing, resilience, and life experience. 

Remember, residents don’t want pity. They want purpose. They want real and meaningful engagement.   

For that, forward thinking senior living communities are turning to technology to enhance mental, physical, and spiritual engagement. So what should you be looking for in a technology platform to accomplish this renewed sense of engagement?  

  • Intuitive systems – On average, seniors who didn’t grow up with technology have a much steeper learning curve. They need simple technologies that feel familiar and are built expressly for them. Purposeful and easy to use technology leads to widespread adoption. Similarly, engagement platforms should be built with easy interactions so that residents can intuitively work things out.
  • Tools that augment in-person activities – Even if in-person interaction has been limited, senior living communities must find ways to keep residents engaged with their community. Technology can enhance engagement in many ways, including:
    • Virtual health education
    • Coaching
    • Providing options to learn new skills
    • Tapping into live concerts and lectures (locally or around the world)
  • Solutions that connect – The more ways residents have to connect, the better. These days, there are dozens of different technology solutions that can help seniors connect:
    • To medical specialists via telehealth services, virtual visits, and health monitoring 
    • To family via messaging and photo sharing 
    • To friends via video chat and telephone
    • Spiritually via audio streaming service that addresses the critical spiritual dimension of health and wellbeing
  • Wellness engagement tools – Whole-person engagement is focused on the body, the mind and the spirit. Powerful wellness engagement tools include:
    • Enhances autonomy by providing on-demand physical exercise classes giving residents the freedom to choose time of day, style and pace
    • Mind games and educational opportunities to grow memory, curiosity and brain function
    • Behavioral/mood drivers such as meditation, coaching, and anxiety relieving programs
    • Easy access to faith programming for spiritual wellness
  • Simplify tasks – As they age, residents want more conveniences. Whether it’s digitally registering for community events, making service requests, or seeing what’s for dinner, there are simple ways that technology can make their lives easier.
  • Keeps others informed – A crucial part of engagement involves trust through transparency. Both caregivers and family members need simple ways to keep tabs on their loved one’s activity and wellbeing. The best way to accomplish this is by automatic trend reporting, which gauges the resident’s activity according to baseline behavior. If something worrisome occurs, staff and family members can then be alerted.
  • A Partner – Senior living communities require an engagement platform that solves more problems than it causes. They need a partner that ensures the system is operational. Ideally, this will include multiple levels of support and automatic upgrades where applicable. 

Together, these various aspects create a fully immersive and engaging experience for residents. 

 

Engage360— The Engagement Driver

People depend on one another to flourish, regardless of their age.  

In a socially isolating, difficult time, it’s more important than ever for senior living communities to find new ways to help residents thrive both within and outside their communities. Failure to do so could have significant ramifications on residents’ mental and physical health. 

We don’t know if and when the world will return to normal. Now’s the time to capitalize on new technologies. 

Technology solutions like the Engage360 platform can help you drive resident engagement. 

How? 

By embracing AI or machine learning, which provides new ways to interact and connect that nurture the resident’s mind, body, and soul.       

 

Sources:

  1. UCSF. Loneliness Linked to Serious Health Problems and Death Among Elderly. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/06/98644/loneliness-linked-serious-health-problems-and-death-among-elderly
  2.  NIA. Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks
  3. Eden Alternative. McKnights Features Bill Thomas and the Impact of Loneliness. https://www.edenalt.org/mcknights-features-bill-thomas-impact-loneliness/
  4. Aging Care. Combating the Epidemic of Loneliness in Seniors. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/loneliness-in-the-elderly-151549.htm
  5. NIH. Older Adults Reporting Social Isolation or Loneliness Show Poorer Cognitive Function 4 Years Later. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23749730/

Related Blog Posts

View Blog
August 27, 2020  /  Senior Living Strategy

Proactive Reopening Strategies for COVID-19

Read More
August 16, 2020  /  Senior Living Strategy

How Senior Technology Supports Resident Dignity

Read More
August 10, 2020  /  Senior Living Strategy

Why Senior Living Communities Must Embrace Population Health

Read More