We know from personal experience that technology can be a great form of entertainment. Whether browsing social media to catch up on friends and family members, playing games, watching videos, learning a new skill and more, technology has become a “must have” for anyone looking to bring the world (and all the knowledge within) to their fingertips. But besides being a way to pass the time, can technology also be a way to improve the mood – and well-being – of your senior loved one?
“Mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to aging well,” says Cindy Wirth, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury, a memory care assisted living community in Sudbury, MA. “Seniors, especially those who are in memory care, have a high incidence of depression, anxiety and stress. This doesn’t just make them unhappy; it also increases unwanted behaviors, can cause real, physical ailments and overall results in a poorer quality of life.”
But these days, technology is making strides in the realm of mental health, especially when it comes to seniors. “Because the baby boomer population is so large, and is entering seniorhood, companies are wising up to how their products and technologies can be adapted to help seniors live in place longer, remain healthier and stay connected more easily,” says Cindy. “As more and more seniors, family members and caregivers learn about the benefits of technology for all aspects of wellness – including mental health and mood – I expect that we will see senior living communities and spaces become high-tech in order to provide the best quality of life for those who call them home.”
Seniors and Technology: Quick Statistics
According to AARP, seniors these days are pretty tech-savvy – a far cry from the stereotype of the older person who doesn’t know how a computer works. Smartphones and personal computers are the primary tech used by adults ages 50 and up. Among seniors who have these types of devices, their top activities include surfing the web, getting news, making purchases and doing business transactions. Seniors also report using technology to stay in touch with friends and family, whether through email, text messages or social media.
There are, however, barriers to getting seniors to interact with technology. The biggest hurdle, of course, is knowledge. Older adults are less familiar with new innovations in the technology space and tend to use “what they know,” such as their old desktops or outdated phones. Lack of knowledge leads to uncertainty and a sense of fear, which can further hamper tech adaptation. Finally, older adults have a greater lack of trust that their personal information is safe when using technology – yet another hurdle, particularly as tech becomes more and more integrated in every aspect of our personal lives.
Seniors, Technology and Mental Health
While we often think of technology as being a drain on mental health, there are a growing number of apps and other technologies that are geared towards supporting mental health and well-being. In fact, it’s believed that the mental health space will get the biggest boost thanks to technology as we move forward.
“Mental illness is common in seniors, and some studies estimate that depression is more common than dementia as we age,” says Cindy. It’s estimated that one in four older adults face mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or dementia – which means that this population especially can benefit from technology to improve mental health and mood.
Research that has studied seniors and social media finds that those who interact online – in other words, posting, commenting on or “liking” other people’s posts – have better moods and a happier outlook than those who simply “lurk.” As loneliness becomes more and more common with the senior population, connecting to others has undeniable value, making programs like FaceTime, Skype and social media platforms essential services, in a way.
Technology and Dementia: Boosting Moods for Patients and Caregivers
Dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease often affect individuals with negative moods such as sadness, apathy, confusion and anger. These negative emotions also spill over to caregivers, who are dealing with the emotional, financial, physical and mental weight of caring for their loved one. Seniors with dementia are often prescribed antidepressants and other drugs to help improve their mood (and reduce negative behaviors), but research is showing that technology can be a positive influence on their moods and reduce the need for pharmaceutical solutions.
A study done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy found that when dementia residents had significant mood improvement when they were given tablets loaded with apps like YouTube, photo sites and music channels. In fact, half of the patients in the study had improvements in their moods. Playing music, looking at family photos and watching videos all were associated with positive moods.
At Bridges® by EPOCH communities, the unique, virtual iN2L programming is used to keep residents engaged and connected. They can enjoy virtual experiences that may not have otherwise been possible. They can also engage in learning activities, physical fitness and other activities that boost mental and emotional well-being.
Other technologies, such as robotic pets like Tombot, Paro and Sony's aibo are growing in popularity in memory care communities. These amazing robots offer a soothing, comforting experience – just like a real pet! – without the worry and chores that come with a live animal.
Bridging the Gap with Technology
“We’ve known for some time that technology can help our residents live happy, fulfilled and enjoyable lives, which is why we are always on the lookout for new features, technologies and treatments we can adopt at our community,” says Cindy. “As more and more research goes into how technology can help boost seniors’ moods, and as more and more companies invest in creating products that can improve the lives of our residents, I hope that we will be able to continually improve the quality of life for our residents with dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss.”
Exceptional Care & Engaging Lifestyle
Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury provides exceptional memory care in a comfortable and engaging environment. Designed specifically to support those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, our community delivers a wellness-focused lifestyle that respects individual preferences and abilities. Our teams receive ongoing, specialized training so they may help residents to safely exercise their independence in a secure, calm environment.
Dedicated Memory Care
Our expert dementia care and comprehensive services are tailored to meet the unique needs of our residents, wherever they are on their journey with memory loss. Our life enrichment programs are personalized to residents’ interests and abilities, providing joy and meaning in daily life and enhancing emotional well-being.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury is more than a safe, beautiful place to live; it’s truly a home, where compassionate, dementia-educated caregivers help people with memory loss live more fulfilling lives. Our research-based design features soft lighting and colors, non-glare flooring, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life-enrichment stations that empower residents to comfortably move about their home with confidence.
Contact us today to learn more.