You likely recall the infamous catchphrase, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” If not, let me bring you up to speed with a piece of American cultural heritage. The line was from a commercial featuring an elderly woman lying on the floor after she experienced a dangerous bathroom fall, followed by an emergency dispatcher informing her that help is on the way. The quote was the catchphrase for a medical alert company that provided its senior subscribers with an electronic pendant, which when activated during an emergency, would allow an immobile user to talk directly to a dispatcher without needing to move to access a telephone. The saying hung around as a joke that movies, late night talk show hosts, and corny dads would say offhandedly. But in many ways, the service provided in that commercial to the senior citizen in need was an early example of a multi-billion dollar industry in the making, the intersection between property technology and senior care.
Today, there are 39.5 million seniors in the United States over the age of 65, including 5.6 million over the age of 85. Many seniors are experiencing daily life with growing concerns and PropTech offers innovative technological solutions through commercial real estate that can help reduce the challenges that confront the aging population. As the coronavirus continues to spread, aging adults, particularly those with pre-existing conditions are vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19. In addition, there is the challenge of seniors completing activities of daily living and getting groceries, to living with social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates that prevent seniors from interacting with their adult children and grandchildren because of fears of contracting the virus, which demonstrates just some of the worries and concerns confronting aging adults today. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the need for real estate professionals, building owners, and facility managers to design spaces utilizing PropTech solutions that meet the growing needs of the aging population.
Tech solutions are essential to the health and safety of seniors during the coronavirus pandemic, which has fueled an increase in the use of services like telehealth, allowing medical personnel to use videoconferencing to diagnose and treat patients from a distance in their own homes. The use of such PropTech innovation has proven to be vital during this pandemic because utilizing telehealth services, a sector which generated $895 million of VC investment in 2018, means less sick patients need to physically go into hospitals and emergency rooms, minimizing the spread of this deadly virus and potentially saving lives. When it comes to the issue of senior living apartments, commercial building owners and facility managers have traditionally thought of living and play spaces, but now developers are encouraged to build conference room spaces that are wired with appropriate technology for remote telehealth services for seniors to receive medical care through videoconferencing in an environment that maintains privacy and discretion.
The vast majority of PropTech’s impact on the aging population will be implemented in private homes, assisted living communities, and senior retirement facilities. In part, landlords and facility managers should employ the latest technologies in buildings to boost care and save costs, by modernizing senior spaces with the latest innovative PropTech solutions, like smart air purifiers that can prevent respiratory issues, remote controlled blinds that helps seniors who suffer from mobility challenges, and smart thermostats that helps to prevent dehydration, which can lead to dizziness and falls. Furthermore, approximately 33 percent of seniors 65 and older slip and fall each year, and 80 percent of those falls occur in the bathroom. Senior units in buildings should include smart lighting with inbuilt smart sensors that can allow seniors to control lighting from an electronic device or even with their voice, removing the need to find bathroom and hallway light switches in the dark, in-turn, reducing the likelihood of preventable falls.
It would also be beneficial for building owners and managers of senior spaces to prioritize spending on tech solutions to ensure that buildings can function in ways necessary to make senior care more compassionate and accessible. This can be done in-part by designing structures that utilize Internet of Things (IoT) smart technology to enhance every stage of the senior living experience from the doorbells to the locks and lights. However, the functionality of these smart and internet-connected devices including telehealth services demonstrates why improving access to broadband service nationwide is vital to fully implement PropTech into senior care spaces and ensure that all seniors are able to access these technologies in the buildings where they reside.In short, PropTech offers innovative technological solutions to assist commercial real estate professionals in improving the current level of care for the aging and can transform how buildings are designed and managed to allow seniors to age in peace in the comfort of their homes by increasing access to potentially life saving technologies that are particularly useful during times of crisis such as COVID-19. To that point, it would be beneficial for the governmental agencies like the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a joint “PropTech Task Force” to study how the government can spur PropTech innovation to better care for our nation’s 39.5 million seniors and potentially lower the costs of their overall care through technological advancements. Doing so will ensure that the benefits of PropTech’s groundbreaking innovation can serve as a means of boosting today’s level of care to all senior citizens.