Mobile Technology in Senior Living

The Rise of Mobile Technology

In the past five years, mobile technology has revolutionized our culture:

Information is ubiquitous - By tapping a button and speaking, you can search on everything from weather to medications.

Connecting through Video - Video phone calling apps, such as FaceTime and Skype, allow us to smile, laugh and speak with loved ones face to face.

New Possibilities for People with Disabilities - The visually impaired are navigating smartphones and tablets via gestures and voice. Made-for-iPhone hearing aids automatically adjust settings based on geolocation.

Apps are transforming billion dollar industries - Uber is changing the way we travel; tap a button on the screen to get an affordable ride. Shopping apps, such as Amazon, are shipping everything from groceries to furniture. Netflix and others offer compelling alternatives to cable television.

These services are game changers for seniors, powerful tools for maintaining independence and gaining an element of control over aging. However, we often overlook the challenges of helping older adults use mobile devices.

Learning the Hard Way

Three years ago, I taught my 84 year-old grandmother how to use an iPad. It was incredibly enlightening.  I thought it would be easy, but I was wrong.

Once she got it, it transformed her life, but the process taught me a lot about the challenges facing her generation:

1. Her Attitude - At first she did not want to do it. Like many people her age, my grandmother's past experiences using technology had been much more frustrating than fulfilling.

2. I Confused Her - As a digital native, there were many concepts and skills that were intuitive to me. I didn't even recognize the need to explain them. I immediately wanted to teach her useful apps but skipped the basics.

3. A Lack of Effective Resources - My grandmother insisted on having printed documentation.  I went online and printed the iPad user guide, but it completely overwhelmed her. My family did research and bought guides for new users, dummies and even seniors, but the result was consistent - there was too much information.

Mobile Technology in Senior Living: What We Learned

Shortly after that initial training with my grandmother, my siblings and I started a company to help older adults embrace mobile technology through the iPad. We developed a program to help senior living communities accelerate technology adoption.  Here’s what we learned:

Before You Offer Training, Make Sure You Have Sufficient WiFi

Many communities offer wireless internet in some capacity, but not all WiFi is created equal.  Often guest or resident networks cannot handle the demand of group iPad training.  Since new learners do not understand the limitations of a wireless network, they end up blaming the device or worse yet, themselves.

Prior to starting training, we recommend consulting your IT administrator to explain the size of the group, location in the building and training activities that require a connection.

Keep it Simple… Practice, Practice, Practice!

The key to successful group training is hands-on practice.  Limit the amount of new information and focus on facilitating practice activities that reinforce important skills and concepts.  Prompt the group to send an email to a friend, search for the lyrics to a favorite song or take a picture.

Use Relevant Examples

Older adults are much more likely to embrace mobile technology, if they understand how it can impact their everyday life.  Prepare examples for group training that resonate with your participants - search for scores of their grandchildren's sporting events, download an app for a favorite card game, share photos from a group outing or set up a sample FaceTime call with a distant family member.

Establish “Office Hours”, Leverage Tech-Savvy Residents

Group training can be challenging because participants have varying levels of digital literacy.  During group sessions, stay focused on a handful of critical skills and topics.  Individuals will inevitably have specific questions.  As much as possible, avoid answering questions that may confuse or overwhelm the group.

Instead, designate a specific time and place for individual questions between group sessions. Recruit tech savvy residents to host review sessions and help with individual needs.


Implications of Encouraging Adoption in Senior Living

Beyond the obvious enrichment benefits for residents, group iPad training can also be a marketing differentiator.  Not only are ongoing technology classes appealing to influencers, but many communities choose to open classes for local prospects.

Additionally, helping residents learn to use mobile devices establishes a solid, scalable foundation for future technologies.   It started with WiFi, but digital signage, resident portals, smart homes, and wearables are rapidly becoming part of the senior living landscape.  Before any of this is possible, the first step is to make sure residents and staff are comfortable and motivated to use devices.  

Generation Connect is that often overlooked first step.