Evolving Our Communities to Prepare for Increased Consumer Use of Technology

by | Nov 30, 2021

By Karen Adams, Vice President, Market Intelligence

Hastened by the pandemic, we know that communications, access to online services such as telemedicine, grocery delivery and audio-visual calls, and build-your-own entertainment collections (e.g., music, television, movies, gaming) have emerged as the new order of daily life. This is just as true for those who will be considering senior living options in the 2020s as it is for younger age groups.

By 2029 the greatest numbers of the age 65+ population will be in the 65 to 69 and 70 to 74 age segments. Today, they are ages 57 to 61 and 62 to 66, respectively, and the majority are employed full time. Even among those ages 65 to 69 in 2020, almost a third were still employed, which may be correlated with greater familiarity and comfort with technology. They will be the 73 to 77-year-olds in 2029.

Let’s take a closer look.

Utilization of Technology

The Pew Research Center reports that in 2017, 32% of people ages 65+, 41% of those ages 65 to 69, and 20% of those ages 80+ owned a tablet computer. It is notable that 62% of adults with incomes of $75K+ and 56% of those with a college degree owned a tablet. It is also reported that 70% of “seniors” are connected to the Internet, and 53% have smartphones.

Issues

A study out of the University of California San Diego, reported in Forbes (Robin Seaton Jefferson, June 2019), noted that while older adults own technology, many are put off of it by frustration with not understanding the terms and language needed to navigate the systems of home support. Older elders who did not have exposure to technology in the workplace are particularly disadvantaged. The lack of good design of many technologies is also challenging to this user segment. Therefore, it appears that lack of interest in technology resources is not the sole, or even primary source of barriers to utilization.

Telemedicine

The National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan reports that, in its 2020 national poll, the use of telemedicine increased sharply over its 2019 survey. Among people ages 50 to 80, the rate of utilization increased from 4% in May 2019 to 26% in June 2020. However, acceptance of this resource depends on the acuity of the situation being handled.

On-Demand Services

On-demand services have been cited for their potential to support staying in the home longer. But there is a new potential impact emerging that we should learn from: services providing tech support. 

Around June 2020, Instacart announced the Senior Support Service hotline “aimed at helping customers over the age of 60 order food more seamlessly—and safely—online during the pandemic.” The experience of a call to the helpline was just short of remarkable: a real person was on the line immediately to walk through the process of setting up an account, providing payment information, and placing an order. If other companies follow suit, this type of focus on tech support will further increase the utilization of on-demand services among older adults. 

On-demand services may not have to result in delays to moving if we accommodate peoples’ new living patterns by continuing to increase the flexibility in what residents are required to pay for in monthly fees. One such service that has long received strong interest through Love & Company’s consumer research among retirement community prospects is technology support. It is worth noting that as people withdraw from the employment arena, for many, their skills with emerging technologies will become outdated at some point due to the rapid changes in technology, and they will be seeking new ways to stay relevant. Our communities can help with this by providing tech support.

While some communities have integrated programming in this area, it has been challenging due to the wide array of technology tools residents bring, including televisions, sound systems, remote devices, smartphones, apps and home devices for security and healthcare. But people often do not want to bother children and grandchildren for support and assistance, resulting to them turning to the community for those services.

Our field needs to continue this endeavor. Going forward the answer may not be in becoming the sole provider of assistance but combining some direct support with navigation assistance to outside resources similar to Instacart’s Senior Support Helpline, and advocating for product providers to develop specialized support. 

Helping residents and prospects stay relevant by supporting their use of technology may become one of the most valued services senior living communities can offer.

For more articles covering senior housing trends and how providers must adapt to them to continue fulfilling their missions, click here. To download Love & Company’s brand-new white paper, “Senior Housing Trends: 2021,” click here.

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