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High-Tech from the Ground Up

Responding to consumer and operational demand, providers plan for technology in the design phase.  Share your innovations by entering the Senior Living by Design competition.

By Adam Stone

Technology rolls forward, driving how we work and also how we live. Community is informed by advances in communication, and wireless connections free us to be more productive. In the changing world of senior housing, designers are finding new and innovative ways to get the most out of today’s ever-improving digital offerings. The ALFA Senior Living by Design Awards competition will bring many of these new innovations to light. (Enter at www.alfa.org/seniorlivingbydesign.)

Operational Improvements

More than a mere convenience, today’s technology can streamline operations when integrated into the design fabric of community, says Katy Fike, founder of Aging2.0. When designers build around the notion of paperless information flow, “that allows the family to get updates in real time and it also allows for better communications among the staff. It sets people up to capture more data and to be smarter about we use that data,” she says.


For many designers, the advent of wireless has freed up creativity, says Larry Hymer, director of network and operations at ESCO Technologies. “Integrating wireless technology into other systems allows the community staff to communicate effortlessly with each other and the residents: From hand-held portable phones that alert a caregiver to a resident’s needs anywhere in the building, to being able to confirm a resident’s medication, to residents being able to interact with the staff through their televisions,” he says.

Achieving those goals takes some finesse. “There are a variety of challenges, ranging from the structure of the building to the sheer size of the campus,” Hymer continues. As the wireless revolution has unfolded, designers are learning that they must proceed with due diligence if they are to deploy wireless successfully.

Smarter Software

Wireless is practically a must, but of equal interest are the application suites. Beyond wifi for resident and family convenience, the right programming can make wireless a powerful business tool. Wireless devices can manage nurse call communications, serve as a traditional voice, and enable immediate 911 calling, for example, but it takes careful designing to build in such capabilities. “If you don’t have it innately built into your architecture, it is very difficult to synch them up. Yet today all these things are being bought separately, rather than as integrated functions,” says Craig Patnode, president of Eldermark. Get it right, and the power of wireless is unleashed toward productive business ends. “The efficiency of the worker becomes the focal point,” he adds.

Resident Autonomy 

Responding to consumer demand, operators are incorporating technologies that encourage independence, Fike says. She points to recent innovations that allow residents with tremors to lift their silverware with a steady hand. “If someone is able to feed themselves that is not only great for their own empowerment, but it really can help with staffing needs as well.” Likewise, technologically advanced adult diapers use sensors to detect dehydration and urinary tract infection. This isn’t the technology that makes headlines, but it can make a world of difference for residents, and for operators who incorporate such tools into their design plans.

Electronic infrastructure

Electronic data is more than a convenience. In many cases, it’s the law, and designers need to be aware of this as they integrate networks into their plans, notes Patnode. In many states, those who keep electronic health records are obliged to connect those records to larger state data exchanges, in order to make all health data interoperable. “That is the biggest thing that is going to hit the senior living space next year,” Patnode says. “If they don’t become connected, they will not receive referrals from the hospitals.”

Legacy systems likely need upgrades. Even recently installed EHR arrangements may not go the last leg, connecting internal data to the outside world. As a matter of IT design, operators need to be thinking two steps ahead as the world adapts to state exchanges.

The annual Senior Living by Design competition honors architects, design firms, and senior living providers that achieve innovative architecture in senior living communities. For your $250 entry fee ($495 for non-members), your project will be reviewed by an expert panel of judges who will choose the projects that best advance excellence in senior housing design.

Download the entry form and instructions here >> 

Winning projects will be featured in the November/December issue of Senior Living Executive and announced to national media. Winning projects will also receive a framed award, promotion in ALFA Update, and extra copies of the November/December issue. Deadline to enter: August 4.

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