The Future of Proptech Retirement Homes
The prevalence of proptech has gained traction in commercial real estate, although many owners and operators are still slow to adopt it. But for a niche on the verge of booming demand, proptech could be a game-changer.
Every day, some 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, according to US census data. The number of generational retirees is expected to reach 34 million by 2030. These demographic shifts have set the stage for what some have dubbed the Money Tsunami – a massive influx of potential housing residents for the elderly.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, with all the pain and problems it has brought to the industry, has had some upsides, and one was the increased focus on technology, which in many respects, is positive for operators, residents and family members,” said Ryan Brooks, senior director of healthy policy and analytics at National Investment Center for Housing and Aged Care.
A new generation of tech-savvy senior housing residents, coupled with a sea change in mentality about cleanliness and air quality in the places where people live and work, highlights how important it is becoming for owners and operators to update their technological functionalities.
Safety and security
In early 2022, one of the deadliest residential fires in New York history claimed the lives of 17 residents of a multi-family apartment building in the Bronx. The tragedy has led to calls for legislation requiring the installation of sensors that remotely monitor heat levels in buildings.
Sensors such as those proposed by federal lawmakers could become extremely important in senior housing. In addition to monitoring heat, there are sensors that can help monitor resident falls by recording gait, speed and stride length, wall sensors that can monitor an individual’s heart rate and breathing non-contact, which can monitor indoor air quality and those which can detect changes in humidity, temperature, light and water.
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“What these things tell residents and families is that we take the health and well-being of our residents seriously,” Brooks said.
Ventilation and air quality are perhaps the biggest buzzwords in property management since the pandemic began. The increased attention is turning into a long-term trend and there are a host of related smart tech products on the market, said Jamie James, managing partner at Greensoil Proptech Venturesa company that invests in technology for the real estate sector.
Popular features that operators have implemented include bipolar ionization, microbial cleaners that attach to existing HVAC systems and continuously produce hydrogen peroxide plasma that eliminates viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and other airborne contaminants.
“Nobody takes ventilation seriously and I think they will now,” James said. “We spend all of our time indoors, so the quality of that air is important.”
Comfort in isolation
The ongoing pandemic has further shed light on the impact isolation can have on an individual’s mental and physical health. “It’s finally been recognized,” Brooks said, adding that senior housing operators have taken the initiative to better connect family members to residents by embracing new technologies.
One of the most high-tech innovations of recent times that aims to help those struggling with loneliness and isolation are dog and cat companion robots. These products are on the market and have begun to appear in senior living facilities across the country as a way to provide companionship without the feeding and walking responsibility that a real pet would require. Some of the robotic pets can even speak hundreds of languages and recognize human faces and emotions.
Last fall, the Council on Aging, Southern California, distributed 200 robotic cats and dogs to residents of assisted living communities in the Orange County area, with a particular focus on residents of care units. memory, according to Orange County Registry. Similar programs have taken place in Florida, Alabama and Minnesota.
“They offer realistic, interactive play that really helps combat feelings of loneliness in older adults,” Brooks said.
It is no secret that senior housing has faced many challenges since the start of the global health crisis. One of the most pressing issues has been labor shortages, a pain point that is causing headaches in many industries.
This is where technology to help operators streamline their processes can come into play.
Recent innovations have gone beyond what some programs have done before to streamline core functions such as scheduling, human resources, and employee attendance. New technologies can now go further and find ways to reduce labor costs.
“I think operators implementing technology solutions to differentiate themselves from regional competition, that doesn’t even have to be a major differentiator, even a minor one can be the reason why (a resident) chose a specific carrier to move in with,” Brooks said.
An example of a major implementation might be a community having electronic health records of its residents. Having an individual’s complete medical history can help operators use predictive analytics to better understand potential risks or help establish communication with families, plan care and a framework for it. Although a major EHR implementation can be costly, especially if done at scale across a large portfolio, the benefit of preventing adverse effects can increase a resident’s length of stay, which is a victory for all involved.
“That’s where it’s really positive for the residents and their family members,” Brooks said.
Read the March 2022 issue of MHN.