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How Technology Is Opening Doors for Residents in Assisted Living Communities

By Tanner Jensen | June 7th, 2019

For the past 20 years, Jack York, the founder of It’s Never 2 Late (iN2L) has worked to develop and incorporate technology into long-term care facilities for residents, including those suffering from dementia and other cognitive disorders. Jack says his technology has been installed in more than 2,000 senior living communities worldwide, putting a focus on user-friendliness and intuitiveness that allows residents to connect with family members and explore personalized content regardless of technological familiarity or physical or intellectual limitations. 

  • Struggles to adapt to technology, particularly for seniors, come more from a lack of motivation and miscommunication than an inability to learn
  • It’s Never 2 Late was founded with the goal of making an impact on the lives of long-term care residents by connecting them with their friends and loved ones and improving their physical or mental well-being 
  • In an increasingly technological world, the integration of technology in nursing homes should be a major factor for caregivers in deciding where to seek long-term care for their family members, Jack says 

Being Patient spoke with Jack about the transformative impact technology could have on the lives of residents and their families.

Using Technology to Help Seniors Connect

Being Patient: What are some of the problems that the aging population has when it comes to dealing with technology?

Jack York: Having done this for 20 years now, it’s so hard to generalize anything because everybody has their own path that they go through. No matter where you start, a person really needs to be motivated. It’s certainly been our experience over the years that a lot of times, the children can be the worst teachers for their parents because there’s just so many dynamics that go into, who’s the parent here and who’s not, so sometimes, people are more likely to adapt to technology if their peers walk them through using it.

Being Patient: Most people, especially long-distance caregivers, want to stay in touch with their loved ones. What is the best way for caregivers to stay in touch with their loved ones using technology?

Jack York: We’ve all grown up seeing fascinating improvements in technology, and for someone in their mid-90’s who has never seen something like Google Earth, it is transformational to be able to look at the farm he or she grew up on or the church that resident used to go to. My message to caregivers is to demand that their mom or dad has access to technology. There’s no reason why anybody should not have the right to Skype with their grandkids, connect to their favorite music or be able to connect with their own spirituality. We’ve spent 20 years trying to make that whole process as easy as possible, both for the person themselves, but oftentimes for the caregiver, just through using simple icons and providing access to all kinds of content. It’s got nothing to do with age or dementia. We all have a thirst to be connected to things that are meaningful, and you have to strip through the layers of where people are cognitively to be able to get to it, but the cool thing is that once you have that connection, you can constantly get the person back there just by touching a couple of icons. What it took us a lot of years to figure out is that simplicity is much more important than coolness.

How Technology Helps Seniors Pursue Their Interests

Being Patient: Tell us a little about It’s Never 2 Late. How did you develop the content, and what’s on the platform?

Jack York: The whole concept started with a really good friend of mine in southern California. She, her husband and I have been lifelong friends. I was living the good life in the Silicon Valley. As is the case with most people, if you’re not dealing with your parents, you’re just kind of driving by the assisted living facility. It’s not that you’re being cruel, it’s just not part of your life. My friend lived very close to an assisted living facility, and she saw how isolated a lot of the residents were, so she talked me into making a donation and she worked with the residents, then provided them with a standard computer off the shelf. This was 1998, but we both were intrigued by how life-changing a computer could be for a very small number of residents because most of them couldn’t figure it out.

Again, technology was a lot different back then, but there were still physical and cognitive issues to overcome. I was moving in on 40 and wanted to feel like I was doing something in my life that has some kind of meaning. My friends and I didn’t know what the heck we were doing, but we felt that there had to be a better way to treat people in assisted living facilities. These people are welders, doctors, lawyers and teachers, and they’re sometimes treated like 10-year-olds in these communities. I think that because we didn’t know anything, we didn’t know any better and we weren’t afraid to try integrating technology into assisted living communities.

Being Patient: While you were building this computer program, what did you learn about interacting with an aging population or people living with dementia? 

Jack York: To be honest, I was clueless about dementia at the time. Through the last two decades, so many people have been mentors to me, but when we started, we knew a little about what dementia was but not a lot. The most striking thing I learned those first two or three years is that people aren’t that different. I went into it thinking that those who are 85 have a whole different mindset than I did at 40, but I’ve come to learn that we’re all thirsty to connect with each other, and you’re not able to do that by being thrown together with 20 people in front of a television screen to watch The Jerry Springer show.

If I look at the most transformational difference in terms of the work that we do, it’s the importance of how the staff, oftentimes in conjunction with the family, can work to really get a sense of who the person is, wherever they are cognitively. When you understand who that person is, there’s enough content out there to make it relevant for anybody. Once you find the right content, you want to make it easy to get back to it without having to search again.

A lot of the work that we do is in group environments in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and memory care communities, and also some independent and adult daycare centers, but it’s curated content that you’re able to access very intuitively through a layering of icons. So, you can touch a travel icon and two or three other icons and you’re in Germany [by using Google Earth], or if you want spiritual content, you can experience a Jewish service. We have thousands of components to our program, and then you usually find out that out of the 4,000 pieces of content we have, that person cares about 12 of those things. It’s a matter of taking all this content, curating it so it’s easy to access and then making it really easy to understand what matters to that person.

Encouraging Seniors to Use Technology

Being Patient: Do you think that it’s necessary to have someone help the seniors access technology? 

Jack York: Yeah, it’s very hard to generalize, but it depends on where people are. A lot of our work is done in memory care communities where there is mid- to late-stage dementia, so a lot of people who may never easily access things like email. But a lot of those people are able to recognize a picture of something that matters to them. You can show them stuff ranging from a granddaughter singing to their favorite Frank Sinatra song, a priest saying a rosary or a virtual trip to Paris that resembles one they took 40 years ago. There are no limits to what the content might be, but we don’t want to confuse people with too many choices.

Being Patient: How do you teach people, especially those living with dementia, that technology is not something to be feared? How do you give them that confidence?

Jack York: Our technology is in thousands of communities now and we have a lot of experience doing this work. Our first goal isn’t to get everybody using the technology right away. You need to find the residents that are likely to be engaged with it, and if you get them connected with their grandkids, the grandkids are the secret sauce of the whole thing. You may find a guy who isn’t willing to use technology at first, who’s saying “I don’t need this technology,” but then if he sees his buddy has dinner every night while Skyping with his granddaughter, he may say, “Wait a second, maybe this is worth it.” Grandkids have been very helpful in getting their grandparents to adapt to technology.

Being Patient: What are the top three tips you’d give to a frustrated caregiver who wants their parent to use more technology?

Jack York: If it’s mom or dad in the community, get one of their peers or somebody else to help. I just see so much frustration between family members trying to show mom or dad and they just get burned out, everybody gets burned out, and that can get in the way. Having their peers or grandkids be the mentors has been so much more impactful than their kids trying to do it.

If you’re looking for a community for mom or dad, make sure that technology is a part of the experience for where your mom or dad will be living, even if they cognitively are not able to make that connection themselves. People get so caught up in the physical amenities of a building that I think oftentimes are meaningless. Both of my parents have been gone for a long time, but if I was choosing a community for my mom or dad, I couldn’t care less about what somebody’s furniture looks like. I would want to know how you keep dad connected to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, how to keep mom being able to say the rosary every day, or anything else that is meaningful for them. As consumers, you should demand that that’s a part of the experience, and then immerse yourself in it. When I see communities that really embrace our work, you see joy and love and smiles through technology more than I think anything else you can provide. Obviously, I’m biased but I’ve seen it happen. We’re like a 20-year-old startup, and we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do. I think that in a world where there’s a lot to be apprehensive about, the engagement side of technology is a really, really cool thing.

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