With the dramatic rise in online participation among seniors looking for engagement and entertainment, the provision of high quality and reliable internet access is no longer seen as a luxury add-on.
They’re the fastest growing segment in social media. They’re engaged in online blogs and forums. They’re searching on Google, connecting on Facebook, watching videos on YouTube, chatting with family and friends on Skype. And all the time, they’re tweeting about it.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the demographic described was teenagers, but in fact it’s the over 65s.
As Forbes reported late last year, in the US alone there are currently 39 million people aged 65 and older using Facebook, Twitter, and Skype, “making them the fastest growing age demographic on these sites.”
Closer to home, the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety last year reported that “while many senior Australians may have been reluctant to venture into the cyber world initially, seniors are now the fastest growing online user group in the country.”
Responding to the rise
It’s little wonder then that aged care and retirement living operators are making the provision of high quality and reliable internet access a key feature of their facility offerings.
RetireAustralia, for example, has begun rolling out online services for the residents of its 26 independent living villages across Australia in response to what it calls the “dramatic shift in online participation” among its residents.
Along with providing health services in the home, the high speed broadband service will give RetireAustralia’s 5,000 residents access to online entertainment and communications through an arrangement with telecommunications carrier Frontier Networks.
“We are responding to a striking shift in internet adoption and online participation by retirees,” says Retire Australia managing director Tim Russell. “We are seeing a generation of retirees who are socially active and life-long learners. They are already the fastest growing segment in social media, and huge participants in online health blog and forums.”
The first service will be rolled out to the 163 residents at Wellington Manor, a Brisbane bayside community, in the first half of 2014.
Along with wellness and telehealth content, the service will enable residents to communicate and connect with friends and family and be entertained via a high speed wireless and IPTV network, delivered with “seniors friendly” training and support.
“The Village Connect service enables them to connect to their online communities, to enjoy a world of entertainment and content, and to access a growing eco-system of health and wellbeing services and products online,” says Russell.
From Frontier Networks’ perspective, the opportunity to connect with RetireAustralia’s customer base was a no brainer. Managing director David Waldie says that once they visited some RetireAustralia sites and did some initial research they were immediately impressed by the phenomenon they were seeing.
“We looked at this sector about five years ago and none of this was evident then, but it is now,” says Waldie of the rapid growth in online participation among seniors.
The initial offering has a base bundle of traditional telecoms, telecare and entertainment services, says Waldie. “So broadband and voice, emergency response with monitoring and a pay TV experience. There are upgrade options as part of version 1, which includes telehealth services.”
Waldie describes Frontier Networks as an aggregator and integrator of content. “We’re exploring what we can find in the market to bring to the Retire Australia customer base, and to try and be the trusted moderator of that content.”
He acknowledges they have a lot of work to do sifting through the rapidly changing offerings in the market, in emerging areas such as the use of serious gaming technology for seniors, for example.
“Success for us is integrating it, making it simple, and making it part of an overarching solution that they can trust.”
As part of the current rollout, RetireAustralia residents will help design the services they want, as well as design the training and support they need.
Recognising that technology can be frustrating for seniors, training and support from on-site assistants who are themselves seniors will also be provided.
Seizing the potential
Like RetireAustralia, Feros Care recently upgraded its three residential villages to a wireless network so that by using VoIP and Wi-Fi in the comfort and privacy of their rooms, residents can avail of Skype, Facebook and Google+ to connect, says CEO Jennene Buckley.
Feros is similarly offering a training program for existing and new residents, “silver surfer training”, to ensure everyone can get on board and use the technologies to some extent.
Buckley says that one of the elements of the Feros NBN enabled telehealth project was to look at initiatives to reduce social isolation of seniors in the community.
“This has involved assisting seniors to link with their families and friends via video calls, usually using Skype. The engagement with this new type of communication for seniors in the pilot has been positive, with the participants now receiving/initiating over 130 Skype sessions a month and growing.”
Another recent initiative at Feros has been the use of multi-party video conferencing to facilitate social chat clubs, which are proving popular among residents. “We see the potential of virtual social clubs extending new friendships and social opportunities,” says Buckley.
Byron Bay media personality Mick O’Regan hosted a virtual social chat club in mid-February, in which six seniors took part. Topics discussed included ‘Making The News – how the new age of information has transformed journalism, public knowledge, privacy and secrecy’ and ‘The Sporting Life – a lively look at the sporting world and the ups and downs of participation, effort and success and the tricks to having fun while you get fit.’
Feros resident, Marie Gordon, who participated in the virtual chat club, says it provided “great learning, very interesting. It was nice to see what is out there outside your own four walls.”
Similarly, fellow chat club participant Alan Dodds says: “I enjoyed the information, following through from the past to modern day… I’m glad I signed up for the next one.”
Beyond the virtual chat club, Buckley cites virtual education sessions and group allied health programs as other forums that are facilitated by the use of Wi-Fi.
“This technology will also allow the capability to host special interest group virtual tours for our residents – meaning live streaming of museum and cultural events. We are currently investigating the use of cameras, much like a go-pro and microphone to have two way interactions at special events. We hope to get approval for the 2014 Byron Bay writers’ festival to do our first virtual tour later in the year,” she says.
Feros is also currently consulting with residents about an initiative to connect the residential sites and community care clients with virtual games that include bingo and trivia using high definition video and multiparty rooms.
“It’s a way to use gamification and get our seniors excited about connecting with each other social using technology and at the same time having a little fun,” says Buckely.
“We also see opportunities for internet banking; internet shopping and keeping seniors in both residential and community up-to-date with community, national and international events via the internet. Virtual tours of countries are already a part of the social programming at our residential villages,” she adds.