How technology can help residents stay connected


Beth Garrard, Digital Media Manager, IntegraCare Senior Living Communities

With the introduction of social distancing measures, the inability of residents and families to visit in person has been stressful and overwhelming. Elderly care facilities quickly identified solutions to help residents and families stay connected, such as allowing visits through facility windows.

Technology, including video conferencing, offers a way to maintain a personal connection during these times, but some installations get creative and also surpass technology.

Video conferencing technology facilities can use

Video conferencing allows residents and families not only to talk to each other, but to visually interact with each other. Being able to see a resident can be a great comfort to families during this time, and video conferencing is particularly ideal for families who may live long distances from the facilities and cannot visit them.

Fortunately, facilities can use many types of free video conferencing technology. Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, and FaceTime are all free. These platforms are relatively easy to use, so staff can learn them, help teach residents, and be available for basic troubleshooting as well.

Ways to make technology accessible to residents

Beth Garrard, Head of Digital Media at IntegraCare Seniors’ Communities, notes that IntegraCare has taken a number of approaches to provide residents with devices and technology. “Some of our newer communities, like Hunters Woods at Trails Edge in Reston, Va., Were designed to include an already installed Skype station, so we were pretty well prepared for this sudden need for technology,” says Garrard. “In other communities, we have installed desktop stations with webcams and also taught many residents how to use tablets.”

Some residents may be able to use devices they already own, such as laptops and smartphones, with guidance and training from staff. Other options include setting up technology stations that residents can access with appropriate disinfection and PPE procedures in place. A facility may wish to invest in iPads and tablets, which are more portable and easier to sanitize between uses.

Also consider going beyond technology

While video conferencing and technology have certainly helped keep residents in touch with family and friends, they cannot entirely replace the benefits of an in-person visit. “Our adoption of technology has been rapid and we are trying to meet the families of our residents with the technology they are already using,” says Garrard. “Platforms like Skype and Google Duo have really helped keep some of our residents connected, but not all of them are taking advantage of the technology, and after several weeks families just want to see their loved ones off a screen.”

This need for in-person visits prompted IntegraCare to launch Conversation stations, a system of kiosks that allow families and residents to visit with protective barriers between them. These stations were launched on Mother’s Day and received a positive response from residents and families.

Jeramy Ragsdale, Founder and CEO of Thrive Senior Living

Jeramy Ragsdale, Founder and CEO of Thrive Senior Living, noticed the same problem but took a slightly different approach to finding a solution. “Our social media directors work around the clock to organize FaceTime and Zoom meetings with our residents and families,” says Ragsdale.

“Video calls are great, but there is something very human, very visceral about being physically close to someone. It makes a difference that is difficult to put into words. I received a sincere email from a resident family praising our security measures

but imploring us to find a solution so that she can see her mother in person. “

So Ragsdale started thinking and came up with the idea for Clear Connection Panels. These custom glass panels allow residents to sit on one side and safely talk with family members who are seated on the other side.

The 8 × 10 foot panels are on wheels for easy mobility, and are designed to fit inside the entry doors of Thrive Senior Living communities. With cordless phones from Amazon connecting to each other, residents and families are within inches of each other and can enjoy a relaxed conversation.

Ragsdale spent three days building 10 of these panels with his father, then personally delivered them to 10 Thrive Senior Living communities in five different states. “The comments have been incredible,” he says. “Most communities find it difficult to set aside enough time during the day to meet the demands of families. The sweet stories of reconnection and emotional reunion were so heartwarming to watch. It’s amazing how much such a simple thing made such a difference.

Ragsdale wants other senior care facilities to be able to share the benefits of these panels, so he made the design plans available for free. You can find out more about Clear connection panels and download how-to instructions for creating panels for your own installation.

Resident engagement with families is more important than ever, and with a variety of options, facilities can help keep residents connected in multiple ways.

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