By Maureen Hewitt
Physicians, caregivers, family, friends, loved ones. Each group is entrusted with the health and wellness of older adults. Each group has its own level of hands-on care, and each struggles with the most effective yet least intrusive way to monitor the older adult from a distance. Which could be across the street or around the world.
Today’s technology offers a multitude of wearable or static sensors, live video feeds and apps of all sorts that enable these groups to monitor older adults day and night via the Internet. Some techniques are more invasive than others, but all put the control in the hands of the “caregiver,” whomever he or she may be.
But this paradigm is upside down. The model needs to be flipped.
It’s time to reverse roles and ensure older adults retain the power and control they’ve had throughout their lives. No one wants to accede authority to another, no matter their age. Instead, enable the older adult to remain in control, and use social networking as an engaging and subtle way to monitor health, wellness and safety.
Just 16 years ago this scenario wouldn’t have been possible: there simply weren’t enough older adults online or participating in social media. In 2000, only 14 percent of those 65 years old and older were online, according to the Pew Research Center.
Today that’s changed. Sixty-five percent of adults 50 to 64 years old participated in social networking in 2013, Pew reported. Those 65 years old and older weren’t far behind with 46 percent using a social networking site in 2013. Many older adults increasingly join social networking sites like Facebook.
In addition, Facebook is free and 61 percent of older adults said they were unwilling to pay for wearable sensors and other at-home wellness technologies, according to a 2016 Link∙Age study. While social networking isn’t a replacement for sensors, which monitor myriad physical variations in the home or originating with the older adult, Facebook is an additional method caregivers can use to stay in touch with the emotional side of their loved ones.
Get Some Facetime
A study recently published in Computers in Human Behavior looked at the ways in which those 60 years old and older use Facebook. It turns out older adults are just as interested in keeping up with family and friends as family and friends are in staying in touch with them. Approximately 22 percent of respondents used Facebook for, among other activities, to “stay connected with family.”
Social bonding, designated by older adults as the central reason they use Facebook, is important in helping to reduce the isolation many older adults experience. Older adults in the Computers in Human Behavior study had an average of 88 friends and 17 family members on Facebook.
In changing the paradigm, balance is extremely important. Using Facebook to engage with the older adult, rather than as an overt attempt to assess condition, may be more helpful in securing information about psychological and physical well-being.
Facebook and other social media should be just one of the tools employed by caregivers to keep in touch with older adults. Not all older adults are willing or able to participate in social media – some have physical or cognitive limitations that prevent participation – so ensuring the best fit for specific situations is crucial for successful and safe monitoring.
Facebook interactions may be an appropriate way to converse and improve social links with older adults while maintaining important connections to inform caregiving and potential health and safety issues.
And don’t forget to upload photos—especially of grandchildren—because older adults feel connected with younger generations when images are part of the conversation.
Maureen Hewitt is the President and Chief Executive Officer of InnovAge, a Denver-based provider of comprehensive healthcare services for older adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Hewitt has held this role since 2006 and has led for-profit and nonprofit health care organizations for 20 years. Hewitt’s experience includes leading skilled nursing/sub-acute care facilities and acute care and rehabilitation hospitals, as well as serving in volunteer board positions. http://MyInnovAge.org.