Russ Garber

by Russ Garber

Director - Senior Living

Senior Living Digital Transformations Post Pandemic

  • APRIL 17, 2020
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It’s been more than a month since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instituted strict policies for senior living communities. Across the country, and world, seniors’ lives are being upended as these communities take drastic measures to protect their residents from the potential exposure and infection of COVID-19.

Visitors have been forbidden, group activities canceled, and dining areas have been closed. For their own physical health and safety, seniors are left to stay in isolation within their private rooms, however, at what cost to their mental health?

A study from the National Institute of Health concluded that social isolation and loneliness are directly connected to a higher risk of a variety of physical and mental conditions, including, but not limited to, high blood pressure, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. For some seniors already struggling with the onset of these conditions, if not properly managed while in this time of isolation, the progressiveness of their disease state can rapidly increase.

The design opportunity becomes how can we maximize connection while minimizing the physical footprint of interaction?

Virtual Living. Access to loved ones should never be hard when they live in a senior living community. New virtual meeting devices, such as the Mirror platform, that are voice or simple-touch activated can be integrated into living quarters so that face-to-face conversations can happen more frequently and even during times of lockdown. New technology-enabled rooms can also allow for AR and VR gatherings for the entire family to share in together.

Voice activated technology helps eliminate the learning curve for seniors that struggle with adapting tech-savviness skills. Through voice activations seniors can tell you what they want to do, without having to interact with the technology, boosting their command and offering them choice and control.

AI Storytellers could be a premium package provided by a senior living facility, allowing the family to put together personalized packages of AI storytelling for their senior family members. Throughout the day, the senior can listen to stories being told about themselves and their own experiences, boosting feelings of connection and stimulating cognitive function.

Wellness monitoring. When we are not able to visit our loved ones, but still want to check in on them, new procedures and wearables can allow for us to see how they are feeling and perhaps have a caretaker check in on them. These wearables can also give them a sense of connection to their families by allowing them to see how we are feeling as well. These wearables can also be preprogrammed to alter lighting or other design elements in the room depending on the need. As we saw in our whitepaper research, changing the lighting’s color temperature can have dramatic positive effects in counteracting negative moods.

Cognitive Stimulation Based Activities. Cognitive health—the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember—is a key priority for seniors, particularly those dealing with memory loss and related conditions. A Study from the National Institute of Health notes Cognitive health controls: 

  • Motor function: how well they make and control movements
  • Emotional function: how well they interpret and respond to emotions
  • Sensory function: how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature

It’s imperative to stimulate seniors’ brains to keep their cognitive abilities healthy, or at the very least, maintain what remains. Situations like pandemic-induced isolation present a unique challenge as most cognitive based activities include group interaction, physical activity, and therapeutic exercises. However, this challenge is not impossible to solve for and with technology like virtual travel, seniors can revisit, or experience for the first time, places all around the world from the comfort of their own room.

Binaural Beats. Music therapy is a therapy modality for seniors using musical interventions to address cognitive health, among other benefits. Enter binaural beats. The concept is simple—different audio beats can entrain the brain to different states. The effect on the listener is dependent on the brainwave state that the music is targeting, and in the case of seniors, can be incredibly therapeutic for them mentally, and emotionally. Individualized music devices, or the ability to view “virtual” concerts, allow the stimulation needed to keep seniors highly functioning in times of isolation.

Space for Change. In recent years, Senior Living facilities have moved from sterile, hospital-like structures to more hospitality-focused, amenity-based centers. However, in post-pandemic life, these facilities might need yet another refresh. The hallways could be restructured to allow for socially-distanced activities, and wheelchair nooks could be built outside of residents’ doors to accommodate for a gathering with safe standards to space. A window to the outdoors could provide biophilic benefit, or alternatively feature a technology driven screen that allows seniors the opportunity to select from viewing options—ocean views, landscapes, or even a cityscape. A glass atrium could allow the opportunity for families to “book” spaces that provide protection to immune-compromised seniors, while allowing safe interaction in a controlled environment.

While we move through this pandemic, we will continue to learn ways to make what was once our best, better. The lessons we learn now will forever change our future, finding ways to add life to seniors days.

If you're interested in learning more, continue the conversation by contacting Russ Garber, Director of our Senior Living studio, at russg@ma-architects.com.

Russ Garber

by Russ Garber

Director - Senior Living

Russ has been immersed in the senior living market for over a decade. Based on a growing need in our society, this type of work quickly evolved into his industry calling. When he's not designing senior living facilities, you might find him having a meal at his favorite Columbus restaurant: The Blue Danube.