3 Reasons Why Digital Communication Is Essential To Senior Living’s Success During COVID-19

Today more than ever, senior living organizations are turning to technology to enhance communications in their communities with all constituencies, whether residents, staff or family members. As part of our continuing effort to help provide community leadership with information on the options available to them during these times of physical distancing, we invited Natalie Jones of K4Connect to contribute this blog. K4Connect has just announced free access to and fully remote installation of its new communications solution, K4Community Plus.  If you would like more information on any of the ideas expressed here, please feel free to reach out directly to Natalie. We hope these insights are helpful to you!

Rob Love, President/CEO, Love & Company

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of senior living operations and resident life in communities around the world. Now more than ever, technology is emerging as an essential part of daily operations as operators quickly turn to digital platforms and tools to provide alternative routes to maintain resident and family communication, staff-to-resident connection, resident-to-resident engagement, virtual activities and more.

Dining halls are closing, group programming has all but halted entirely and most unfortunate, in order to protect them from this virus, visitation restrictions are keeping residents from seeing their loved ones. As senior living communities focus on keeping residents safe, the impact on resident life in quarantine is mounting and communities need to be able to solve these new challenges quickly.

At K4Connect, our belief is that technology is only meaningful when it improves the quality of everyday life—we like to say, making life Simpler, Healthier and Happier. From resident engagement features and tools that keep families, staff and residents connected, to staff resources that streamline workflows, technology has the ability to truly transform senior living in a positive way. Right now, as senior living communities are experiencing the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19, digital communication is critical to successfully overcoming some of the biggest challenges our community partners are facing.

Here, we’ve detailed three key reasons why senior living communities need to prioritize digital communications, plus a variety of mediums, tools and resources communities can implement today.  It’s important to also note that these observations are not simply theoretical; rather, they are rooted in what we are seeing from many of the 800+ communities we serve across the country.

Keeping residents informed and connected

As residents remain in their residences with daily activities and group dining severely restricted—or most often, canceled entirely—staying up to date on the latest information can be difficult and confusing. Communities are implementing a number of manual practices to keep residents informed like printed notices slipped under the door or into their meal deliveries, or posting announcements to the community website. Digitizing how residents can receive information enables communities to not only cover more ground, but allows the resident to stay up to date in ways that are most comfortable for them and the easiest to access.  Examples include:

  • Television Insertion Channel: Insertion channels give communities the ability to reach residents directly in their homes with customized static content and information that displays on television monitors, much like the “home” channel seen in hotel rooms. Residents can continue to refer to this channel for important community updates like quarantine safety guidance, visitation policies or daily menus (an important part of a resident’s daily routine). Staff can update this content daily or on an even more frequent schedule depending on what residents need to know.
  • Resident Application: Resident mobile applications operate just like the applications on your personal smart device. With a user interface, content, and functionality optimized for older adults (e.g., contrast, readability, touch sensitivity), these applications operate in ways that fit the lifestyle and acuity of most residents. Applications can range from point solutions like communication (messaging, voice calling) and information sharing, to more comprehensive solutions that fully integrate with community services and tools. Finally, some enable family connections as well, such as K4Connect’s K4Community solution. This type of tool brings everything a resident needs to know right to their fingertips.
  • Voice Technology: Voice technology is quickly becoming more popular with older adults, and senior living has begun to harness voice as a powerful tool to support residents in a variety of ways. As an information resource, for example, with Amazon’s Alexa, residents can simply ask Alexa and immediately access community information, music, news and even current COVID-19 information sourced from credible health organization sources. With enterprise support, for example, we are currently deploying, along with our community partners, pre-provisioned Alexa devices in communities all across the country in a completely touch-free manner. Residents simply get their device, unbox it, plug it in and they are up and running with no setup or downloads required.

Building and maintaining family connections

Severe quarantine measures in senior living are keeping residents and loved ones apart. By now, we’ve all seen the viral pictures of grandparents meeting new grandchildren through windows or even impromptu outdoor performances for quarantined residents. This extended separation causes stress for residents, their families who aren’t able to come see them, and in turn, the community teams trying to foster social connections alongside the realities of their daily responsibilities.

Digital tools and platforms can rebuild these connections, providing residents other ways of staying in touch and giving communities new outlets to reassure families their loved ones are being cared for during this unsettling time.

  • Video Calling: The ability to see the face of a loved one or scenes from home is a powerful way to feel closer to one another. As the workforce turns to video conferencing tools to stay in touch and organized, communities can leverage these same avenues to connect residents with their families. Communities can guide residents on how to leverage native smartphone tools like FaceTime, or free options that many providers are offering to help keep people connected during quarantine such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp. As some residents may not have personal devices with video capabilities, communities can turn their community devices (such as tablets used for surveys) into shared resources (of course, with proper sanitation procedures) for those residents that don’t have a device, or for those who may need more assistance with the technology.
  • Integrated Family Features: Much like the resident application, senior living communities can also extend those benefits to resident family members outside of the community. With a dedicated family application, communities can keep them up to date with COVID-19 news and information, and foster secure resident-to-family communication through chat, voice and video functions. While open platforms like Zoom and FaceTime are of course extremely useful, they do have device limitations and require personal information (like an email address) that poses higher privacy risks. Working with a trusted technology partner that focuses both on enterprise technology and senior living is critical both now and into the future.
  • Social Media: Today, 40 percent of older adults (65+) are actively using social media. Platforms like Facebook are great free tools for messaging and chatting with people outside of a senior living community. It is familiar, simple to set up and available 24/7. A best practice we’ve seen recently is a community creating a community profile for residents without personal accounts and allowing residents to add family members and schedule times to chat directly. These platforms are also providing outlets for communities to easily share resident photos, videos and updates with family members who follow their accounts.
  • Recorded Hotlines: While picking up the phone and making a call may not be the most high tech of solutions, the “old fashioned way” is often a great place to start. Across the country we have seen communities look to provide daily recorded updates for residents, staff and family (often different lines to target the messaging) to keep everyone informed without overwhelming the switchboard or front desk. Community hotline numbers are a low-cost, low-effort way to empower all audiences to stay up to date, connected, and informed.

Battling the impacts of resident social isolation

Social isolation is not new to senior living, but it is a heightened concern now as communities are on lockdown with strict quarantine protocols that keep residents isolated in their rooms for long periods of time. In many ways, the need to socially distance to stay safe and “flatten the curve” is a bit of a Catch-22 for older adults. It is of course necessary, but we also have to recognize that social isolation has extreme mental and health impacts. Maintaining digital connection and stimulation throughout the day is essential to mental and emotional well-being.

Technology provides myriad opportunities for communities to continue to deliver this type of programming directly to residents in their homes.

  • YouTube Content: From walking museum tours from around the world to easy fitness routines and thousands of do-it-yourself activities, YouTube content is a great way to keep residents engaged. In addition to their personal devices, residents can access YouTube through Smart TVs or in-room insertion channels that allow communities to curate and push content directly to them. Communities can curate content by theme, schedule “events” where residents watch or partake in activities at the same time, or gamify content with post-activity prizes that build friendly competition among residents.
  • Fun & Companionship with Alexa: In addition to the utility voice technology brings older adults, the entertainment and socialization elements can be especially useful to combat loneliness during isolation. Interacting with another voice fosters conversation and even companionship for older adults who live alone. With a nearly endless library of free games, music and trivia, residents can choose a different adventure every day. We’ve also seen communities getting truly creative with socially distanced group events using Alexas, like hallway happy hours and doorway sing-alongs!
  • Resident-to-Resident Connection: Maintaining connections between residents is another important part of normalcy that digital communications can assist with. A resident application allows residents to instantly voice dial other residents, or to share messages or photos with one another directly from their phone, tablet or PC. Enterprise voice technology through Alexa can also keep residents connected with voice dialing—a particularly useful tool for residents with visual or mobility challenges. 

For additional recommendations, K4Connect recently dedicated a blog post to 11 ways senior living communities can battle social isolation during COVID-19, which can be viewed here.

As senior living communities continue to face the growing challenges of COVID-19, the marriage of manual and digital communications enables staff teams to accelerate and scale those critical categories of communication, engagement and connection. Ultimately, these short-term needs are pathways to establishing a longer-term technology strategy that can better support operators, staff and residents well into the future. For communities that are only just beginning to consider digital tools, many providers, like K4Connect, are currently offering fully remote activations as well as discounted and free products to support senior living organizations through COVID-19.

For more useful information to help senior living organizations navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19, visit the Love & Company blog for in-depth articles and resources. To learn more about how Love & Company can help your organization maintain its marketing and sales efforts during this time, contact Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013 or tbracken@loveandcompany.com.

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