Life & Lifestyle

Step Up, Smarten Up, and Tech Up in Senior Communities

Senior living is quickly becoming an industry that is learning to step up, smarten up, and tech up to serve its customers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, thousands of Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day until 2030. Like many seniors, I thought I would be staying in my home and graciously move into my twilight years. But as I read more about retirement and talked with friends who have chosen to move out of their forever homes and on to a different lifestyle, I started looking at what might be out there.

Seniors are reinventing themselves, starting new careers, new businesses, new relationships, or reinvesting our commitments to family and immersive grandparenting. The industry is reinventing retirement living with a wider variety of residence options, adopting an approach that emphasizes transition or life-engaging communities like these:

Tiny homes — More economical to maintain and fashion with senior-friendly materials. Think floors that provide cushion for a fall, cabinets with pull-out shelves, and a smaller, wheelchair-friendly footprint. A like-minded, friendly neighborhood that fosters independence, comfort, and support.

Multigeneration options — Partnerships with colleges and universities provide education and socializing opportunities for seniors in nearby or adjacent facilities. New complexes combine senior living in one section with younger residents in another and a central concourse with shops and restaurants. Homebuilders are expanding the “mother-in-law” room to an entire senior residence connected to the main household. In Europe, college students are pairing up with seniors and finding they are sharing expenses and experiences.

Communes — Specialty communities combine social, economic, and learning environments focusing on shared interests, such as health, organic farming, performance, or the arts.

Smart Communities — Smart apartments connect residents to a multitude of accessibility, monitoring, socializing, telehealth, residential portals, entertainment options, and support tools and services.

Many of the developments presented above already offer some of the following Smart Technology:

Smarter TV — A communication system that not only delivers entertainment to the user, but also an on-screen messaging, with daily reminders for appointments and community events as well as other services including virtual front desk agent, managed Wi-Fi, and more. With voice-first technology and big-button TV remotes such as the Smart Apartment Room Controls from Plano’s Enseo© company, residents can even control their lights, window shades, thermostats, and more from a comfortable seated position.

PERS:  Personal Emergency Response Service tools — Wearable devices and monitors keep track of a resident’s vital signs and can immediately alarm staff of serious situations like heart attacks or falls.

Activity trackers — Through wearable tech, motion detectors, and smart furniture (refrigerators, ovens, mattresses, toilets, etc.), staff can follow a resident’s activities and evaluate any concerning changes in daily behaviors or discover patterns that could prompt investigation.

Virtual Reality — Residents reenact their favorite hobbies, like fishing or golf, play games, travel the world, or choose soothing programs to relax.

Robots — Robot pets, soft, lifelike animals that respond to motion and touch with realistic coats and heartbeats, are already in use, as are food-delivery robots. Kitchen robotic systems that build salads or flip pancakes and burgers are already in the testing phase.

Smart Staff — Wearable tech tracks technicians, maintenance workers, and medical staff and reminds them of appointments, checks off tasks, links them to specific residents and individual needs, and transmits an alarm signal that will not shut off without an appropriate response.

While these tech features might be considered extras now, I’m sure they will soon become required by those of us who are “transitioning.”

I am not ready to sell the old homestead yet. Still, I am interested in seeing if there is a community out there that is rocking music from the ‘60s, has an exercise program for underachievers, still has fried foods and chocolate milkshakes on their menu, and free action movies on demand.


Broc Sears

Broc Sears is an assistant professor of professional practice at TCU’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication and also works with the Texas Center for Community Journalism. He has more than three decades of experience in the news, advertising and marketing industries and earned recognition from the Society for News Design, Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, APME of Texas and the Dallas Press Club. He and his wife enjoy the best days of their lives here in Dallas with their family.

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