Tapping into Tech: Why CCRCs Need More Tech-Based Activities

What’s a CCRC?

A CCRC, or a Continuing Care Retirement Community, can provide independent living, assisted living, and/or be a nursing home for older adults. The goal of a CCRC is to maintain the quality of life residents had before entering the community, so they provide services like healthcare, food, housekeeping, and social activities. While CCRCs can be expensive, the number of residents is expanding. According to the European Commission, “the ratio of working people to the ‘inactive’ others is shifting from 4 to 1 today to 2 to 1 in 2060.” With such a dramatic increase in the number of older adults, CCRCs are growing, and need to accommodate new needs.

What activities do CCRC’s provide?

CCRCs already provide loads of activities for residents, which can be anything from bingo to gardening, and hundreds of options in between. In fact, many older adults move to CCRCs just because of the activities offered. According to research, “Offering a multitude of opportunities to engage in a wide variety of life-enhancing activities, CCRCs provide a rewarding environment for seniors who strive to keep their minds and bodies in shape.”

Social activities are good for overall health

These activities don’t just entertain residents. They “provide measurable benefits, including social connections, maintenance of both mental and physical health, and a culture of lifelong learning.” Activities at CCRCs actually reduce the rate of physical and mental decline, and participating in activities they like has actually been proven to “help seniors extend life just as much as physical exercise.” Plus, CCRCs actively fight against social isolation, which carries with it a whole host of health risks.

Humans have a biological need to feel included, and CCRCs’ activities bring people together to do just that.

So why not use tech?

While the activities at CCRCs have proven positive effects on seniors, thus far they have been largely non-tech-related. You’d be hard pressed to find a coding course at a Retirement Community. Of course, a lot of people think that older adults have little interest in technology, but this is simply not the case. According to Senior Housing News, “the pressure to keep up with technology is growing and changing in senior living.”

More and more residents are using tablets like iPads, smartphones, and even computers. A new report suggests that “the incoming continuing care retirement community is healthier, more technologically savvy, and increasingly informed.” Baby Boomers, who more and more are entering CCRCs, are comfortable with technology. They use social media, Uber, do online research, and text.

As Laurie Orlov, principal analyst for Aging in Place Technology Watch, says, “So why not embrace technology meant to improve quality of life and -- just as important -- independence?”

But some older adults aren’t comfortable with technology at all.

Of course, there will always be older adults who struggle to use technology. Many older adults dislike technology simply because they don’t know how to use it. One interviewee in a study claimed that he avoided computers because he didn’t want to be overwhelmed by too many features, and that “he fears he would require a great deal of outside support due to his lack of competence in using this technology.” These older adults associate technology with “a lack of their own competence in dealing with it.”

But this doesn’t mean that older adults don’t want to use technology. In fact, it seems that for the most part, negativity toward technology primarily stems from the feeling that they won’t know how to use it. According to Senior Housing, “People get stuck and they don’t know what to do next . . . some folks are reluctant, but getting them to feel confident is important.”

By incorporating technology into the activities that CCRCs are already providing, communities can help their residents overcome the discomfort and confusion that can come with learning to navigate technology. Even simple activities like online crossword puzzles or basic messaging applications could help older adults both become more comfortable with technology and keep them entertained and connected over a shared experience. By embracing change and “offering a variety of community events, forward-thinking CCRCs provide opportunities for residents to form social bonds around activities and hobbies.”

Not to mention, learning something new can actually improve brain health.

So how do we incorporate technology?

Often the goal of implementing tech into CCRCs is and should be social connectedness. According to a study, “when seniors participate in engaging activities and hobbies, they gain an effective method for meeting people and forming lasting bonds.” Connecting older adults with and over technology could happen in two ways: either by basing lifelong learning activities around technology, or actually connecting residents virtually to enjoy activities they already participate in. For example, CCRCs could either host an event about how to use a new technology like video chat, or virtually connect an established activity, like a book club.

At OneClick.chat, after receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health, we’ve begun to develop our video chat platform so that it can virtually connect older adults over the topics they already care about. While our video chat events do connect older adults within the same CCRCs, our unique and innovate video chat breakout groups can also be used to connect older adults in different CCRCs, so they can meet one another and form lasting bonds.

According to Aging and Technology, “technological solutions need to be context-specifically assessed and sometimes need to be altered.” As a result of our work with the NIH, we’ve tailored made a video chat platform by and for older adults, and tested the final product on those with and without mild cognitive impairment. While learning new things and experimenting with technology can be transformative for older adults, we focused on making a platform that is already as inviting and non-intimidating as possible.

Other companies also see the need for tech-based activities in CCRCs. Lifespace Communities, a senior living community focused on independence, has developed an app called Touchdown, which residents can use to control features of their apartments and even communicate with one another.

The future of CCRCs

For many seniors, hobbies and activities are the main attraction of CCRCs, simply because of their life-enriching qualities. Engaging in these such activities prevents social isolation and helps endow a sense of purpose. As more and more people make decisions about which CCRC is best for their lifestyle, Retirement Communities need to create the best programming they can if they hope to stand out. That’s where technology comes in.