This article is sponsored by iN2L. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Lisa Taylor, CEO at iN2L, to learn how new technology and trends are driving resident engagement in senior living. She explains how operators are addressing social connection challenges among both staff and residents, and she provides insight about where the industry is headed in terms of technology and engagement.
Senior Housing News: What career experiences do you most draw from in your role today?
Lisa Taylor: How about I give you the top three? From a business leader perspective, the number one thing I’ve learned is the importance of deeply understanding who you serve, the market and why you do it. Number two is almost like a 1A, which is maintaining clear communication to everyone in the business so they understand how you’re serving the market and why it’s important. Those employees must also understand how their roles contribute to the overall success and mission of the business.
Number three is having fun. People often ask me if I have a favorite quote, and for me it’s, “Don’t fight every battle.” You can’t fight them all, so it’s important to choose the ones that mean the most to the business. For the battles you choose to fight, fight them to win.
Looking beyond technology, what is most important about camaraderie and social connections in senior living today?
Taylor: We see engagement and connection as the fundamental building blocks to well-being. Connection is the key ingredient to living your best life, no matter your age — and it is elusive for many people.
The pandemic put a spotlight on the realities of resident loneliness and the struggle communities are facing to create meaningful social connections for residents. This applies to times when in-person options are limited, but we also need to address the ongoing and pervasive issue in the long term.
It’s a big deal. It’s estimated that 70% of the variance in health care outcomes is attributable to social determinants of health, especially social isolation and loneliness. Not only are camaraderie and connection important for health and well-being, but they are vital ingredients to a community’s overall success in senior living.
Back before the pandemic, in April of ’19, ASHA and ProMatura came out with a study that unveiled a powerful, untapped lever for assisted living executives, their administration and their staff. The researchers really dug in to understand what could be changed in assisted living to improve the customer experience. They wanted to determine if the focus on amenities and activities is proportionate to their impact on a resident’s quality of life.
That study included over 2,300 assisted living residents and 600 family members, and ASHA/ProMatura found that they were really influenced by 22 different combinations of operational attributes — those over which the administrator, staff and the community have some control. The results were unexpected and offered tremendous insight into the steps that could be taken to impact not only quality of life but also the priority business drivers.
The answer was camaraderie. Whether a resident had a friend in the community was the number one influencer of business outcomes. Camaraderie affected their willingness to recommend the community, if they felt at home, their perceived value of the cost of living and if they would choose the community again if given the chance. No other attribute even came close to camaraderie’s impact in that study.
Even more astounding is that just 20% — one in five of the residents — said they were satisfied with the number of friends they have in their community. The results of family members were very similar.
What is the relationship between the opportunities for socialization and resident satisfaction, and how can operators create those opportunities?
Taylor: Having opportunities for socialization is directly connected to both resident well-being and resident and family satisfaction. In fact, residents told us in a survey from June 2020 that social connection is essential or very important to their well-being, with 66% of them rating social connection as the highest.
Residents’ families agree. They reported that the number one reason they would not recommend a community would be the lack of opportunities for residents to socialize with each other. It’s really clear that social connection impacts the satisfaction of residents and business outcomes for the communities. Our ultimate goal is to improve engagement, which is not just about eliminating isolation. It’s about improving overall health and well-being. So there is a tremendous opportunity for action.
The data is telling us that our efforts to facilitate these connections and opportunities for engagement are not as successful as they could be. So, how can operators create these opportunities? It’s about leveraging engagement technology and thinking about it as the connective tissue within a community. Learn your residents’ shared interests, and then deliver targeted and interactive content — not just common activities like bingo and sing-alongs that everyone could be involved in, but focused, shared interests.
Almost eight out of 10 family members, along with 73% of residents, say that activities specifically tailored to the resident are essential to their well-being. Operators also acknowledged how critical it is for resident recruitment to use each resident’s interests to personalize their experiences. The key takeaway is that the communities using digital tools to facilitate the formation of friendships and connections will have a competitive edge in impacting both resident and family satisfaction, as well as the family’s willingness to recommend that community to others.
How are senior living communities reimagining resident engagement in light of the pandemic?
Taylor: The communities we work with are using lessons from the pandemic to reshape the way they integrate resident engagement throughout the community. It’s all hands on deck. Regardless of your responsibilities or position within the community, everyone is focused on resident engagement. The activity and life enrichment team will continue to be a very important touchpoint for driving engagement, and the roles of other team members will also be elevated to help create these engaging experiences as well.
We’ve also seen growing popularity in smaller group activities that can be held concurrently in different areas of the community, driving engagement on the individual resident level. Technology has helped communities be very successful with these new ways of engaging residents. Devices like our iN2L tablets helped individual residents easily connect to the engagement content that interests them, and connection tools such as one-touch video chat enabled them to stay connected with family and friends.
How has the role of technology evolved this year to address social connection challenges?
Taylor: Resident engagement is in a period of fundamental change. The pandemic has taken a toll on our industry, but it also brought many things to light and started a conversation about social isolation and loneliness. Today, we know that resilience is the primary factor for long-term wellness and longevity. In a myriad of creative ways, operators have harnessed technology to address different multipronged challenges that COVID-19 created.
It is very outdated to hold onto the belief that older adults and technology don’t go together. That just simply is not the case. In fact, a recent Pew survey reveals that 92% of seniors own their own cell phones. 61% of those are smartphones, up massively from just 42% in 2017. From surfing the web to shopping online and connecting with family over Zoom, the pandemic has made it clear that seniors not only want technology — they need technology.
Again, I’ll reference the iN2L study back in 2020: 41% of senior living residents said access to technology devices increased during the pandemic, and 46% reported increased access to video calls with loved ones. These calls were a lifeline for those residents during the pandemic. The Administration on Aging reports that even 15 minutes of video calls per day can help alleviate symptoms of depression in seniors by about 50% among a population of community-residing older adults.
While it might not have been a mainstay before the pandemic, technology has become part of the social connection solution for many communities. Data from surveys of community operators show a general shift in how technology is being viewed with respect to the community experience. Notable shifts since before the pandemic include 60% more leaders believing engagement technology is extremely important and nearly 20% more leaders placing at least a medium priority on acquiring engagement technology compared to 2019.
The number of leaders who say their community is differentiated due to an investment in engagement technology has increased by 20%, up from 73% to 88%.
How about staffing? How has the role of technology evolved this year to address staffing challenges?
Taylor: It seems like no community is immune to staffing challenges in the current landscape. To say that the pandemic helped accelerate employee burnout would actually be a gross understatement. Today, 81% of assisted living communities report severe staffing challenges, along with 94% of nursing home operators.
Providers cite rebuilding their workforces post-pandemic as both a top priority and a top concern. As the backbone of resident experience, a strong and consistent team is key. But when communities are short staffed with limited time and resources, existing staff members feel overburdened. Caregivers are certainly more disconnected today than ever before because many of them got into this to connect with residents, build relationships and help spread joy within the communities.
To help break the burnout cycle, communities are leveraging their engagement technology in new ways to support their workforce. It can help them save time by expediting processes and engaging residents. We’re continuing to see communities leverage engagement technology to maximize the resources they do have while staffing challenges persist.
This technology can help staff create efficiency in planning and executing engagement and activity programs, as well as help them maintain consistency in the resident engagement experience.
Where do you see forward thinking operators and the industry as a whole moving next with respect to resident engagement and technology?
Taylor: Forward-thinking communities have started to rethink the engagement experience and build an engagement framework that emphasizes social connection and purpose-driven experiences. Obviously we feel there’s an incredible opportunity to bolster this new resident engagement framework using technology.
A next-level engagement strategy has three key components that communities should be incorporating. The first one is personalization. People want experiences that are personalized so they can tap into more purposeful activities. All of us have come to expect personalization embedded in our digital interactions. Think about this. How can you use information that you know about residents to truly personalize engagement opportunities for them? Tap into the things that excite them, motivate them and bring them joy.
The second one is creating opportunities for friendship, camaraderie, and social connections. Friendship is a critical element to connectedness. How can you create on-ramps to friendships for residents? How can you help them connect to others with similar interests and backgrounds within your community?
The third one is empowering residents to drive their own engagement. Almost one third of all retirees struggle to find purpose in their new stage of life. We can empower them and give them something to look forward to. Again, how can communities provide residents with access to easy connection and engagement tools to create their own experiences in ways that fit with the existing workflow and processes?
Coming into this year, no one knew fully what to expect in the senior living industry. What has been the biggest surprise to you, and what impact will that surprise have in 2022?
Taylor: The biggest surprise for me is not understanding PTSD. The people serving our seniors in these communities were dealing with PTSD during the pandemic. Right now, they’re exhausted, they’re tired, they’re understaffed and they need a break. I think the surprise was understanding what a critical point that is, and the fact that our communities and staff have continued to serve senior adults through an incredibly difficult time.
In 2022, we’re going to need technology solutions to help impact staff efficiency so they can spend time doing what they love to do, which is connect with seniors. Technology can help facilitate that.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
iN2L offers content-driven engagement to support social interaction, cognitive and physical exercise and therapy, education, reminiscing, areas of interest, memory support, and more with touch screen systems ideal for both group engagement and individual experiences. To learn more, visit iN2L.com.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact email@example.com.