CHAI’s Seniors Test Technologies For National Organizations

National organizations such as AARP are tapping the insights of seniors living in CHAI’s communities to determine how cutting-edge technologies may help older adults live more productive lives.

During this past year, residents of CHAI’s Weinberg Senior Living facilities and CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting, an interdependent community of seniors, tested the Amazon Echo and other senior-friendly apps in several pilot studies.

The AARP Foundation first approached CHAI about a year ago about placing the voice-activated technology, Amazon Echo (a cylinder called Alexa), in a small number of homes. They wanted to see if the device would combat loneliness and help seniors remain independent.

After identifying participants for the trial, CHAI worked with the AARP Foundation as they distributed Echos and explained to seniors how to communicate with Alexa. Voice commands, they informed residents, could prompt Alexa to play games with them, remind them to take their medicine, be programmed to turn on and off lights and provide them with the weather and news of the day.

The Echos won overwhelming support from trial participants. In one instance, when a 92-year-old NNC member returned to her apartment after visiting a sick relative for several weeks, she commented how comforting it was to hear Alexa’s calm voice again.

Another resident of a Weinberg apartment called Alexa her new “friend.” She mastered the electronics to make her Alexa do everything she wanted it to do, including sending texts!

In addition, the seniors provided AARP with invaluable feedback about which apps worked and which additional apps would be helpful. One woman suggested the technology be offered at a lower rate to seniors, while another participant at one of the test locations suggested an “Ask Your Rabbi” app that could assist in such ways as providing the correct time for candle lighting.

“One of the benefits of this program,” says Chava Ball, CHAI’s village engagement director, “is that it helps seniors overcome their fear of technology and recognize how it can help them in their daily lives.”

Entrepreneurs Test Products for Seniors

At the same time, this past month, residents of Weinberg Place, next to Levindale, met with local entrepreneurs to provide feedback on prototypes of new technology, including advice on how they could improve their products. The trials were conducted as part of the Baltimore chapter of Aging. 2.0’s Accelerator. The nationwide Aging 2.0, based in San Francisco, describes itself as a global innovation platform on a mission to accelerate innovation to improve the lives of older adults around the world.

One of the apps tested includes a monitoring system in the home so family members or caregivers could monitor their loved ones. Another product was TechStar which connects tech-savvy college students with seniors to provide one-on-one technology training.

“These opportunities give our seniors a chance to feel heard and know that they are making a difference in helping other older adults, not just locally, but nationally,” says Tiffany Nicolette, director of resident services, CHAI’s Weinberg Senior Living.

Mitch Posner, chief executive director of CHAI, is thrilled that these organizations are reaching out to CHAI’s residents and program participants for help in product testing. He sees this as a testament to CHAI’s reputation of building strong senior communities that are innovative.

“One day, wouldn’t it be nice if Apple heard about what a great group we have here in Baltimore and think about us as a great place to test their senior-focused products,” he says.

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