Local communities benefit from RIT’s TekHub collaboration
Local communities benefit from RIT’s TekHub collaboration
Residents at Jewish Senior Life’s The Summit at Brighton have had a new Tai Chi instructor of late: a two-foot-tall humanoid robot that is placed on a table facing the group and leads them through the exercises.
The robot, part of a pilot program at the independent senior living community, is one of several innovative technologies being used in senior care in the region, with a focus on active aging.
“There’s some really cool stuff being done,” says Travis Masonis, chief information officer and vice president of information technology at Jewish Senior Life. “Nothing replaces the human touch, but some of these things are a novelty and really engage people.”
The robot was developed by Zhi Zheng, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in Rochester Insitute of Technology’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering.
It is not the first collaboration centered around technology that Jewish Senior Life has had with RIT.
Another is the TekHub, a partnership between the senior living community and RIT’s Saunders College of Business.
The program — which launched in 2021 — offers technology assistance to residents at The Summit at Brighton.
Since its inception, the TekHub has logged close to 2,000 encounters with residents, Masonis says.
He sees a change in the way seniors interact with technology.
It used to be commonplace for family members to help Summit residents set up a streaming service or iPad, but Masonis says that has slowed down and residents are now able to complete such tasks themselves with minimal assistance.
“If you can provide them with just a little help, they really take off with it,” Masonis says.
That support can lead to greater awareness and confidence, increasing seniors’ use of technology, which, in turn, helps them be more connected with friends and family.
It also gives them more access to entertainment and games to stimulate cognitive function, he says. The ultimate goal is to create a technology blueprint that can be expanded to the community at large.
“We want seniors to continue to be able to adapt to and use technology,” he says.
Another way Jewish Senior Life is embracing technology is with immersion rooms.
Similar to virtual reality, but without goggles, immersion rooms are designed to provide a visually engaging experience, using equipment such as video walls to transport individuals to another location.
Those in the rooms can access locations from around the world (any location that is on Google Maps). Residents have visited beaches, cities around the world, even their old neighborhoods.
Masonis says the rooms can do more than provide entertainment.
The technology, for example, is part of a pilot program at the senior community’s memory care unit and has produced some promising outcomes, with some residents showing a response to the stimuli and communicating in a way they had previously not done.
“It makes us hopeful for what technology can do for us,” he says.
Jennifer Lesinski, vice president of marketing, and Nick Daszkiewicz, information technology operations manager, at St. John’s, say the senior community is looking at ways technology can currently advance the organization’s mission, as well as how it can help in the future.
As a part of that mission, the two are involved with the Thrive Alliance, a collaborative group of innovators, researchers and healthcare providers from across the United States who are focused on solving challenges and scaling solutions for the aging care market.
The alliance is part of the Kentucky-based Thrive Center, a nonprofit established to spotlight innovation and promote healthy aging.
Being part of the nationwide effort allows St. John’s access to the newest technologies, they say, not only by having the option of having pilot programs at the local site, but also on development efforts for the new technologies.
“We are looking to continue to identify innovations in technology and bring them to the Rochester community,” Lesinski says.
St. John’s uses technologies in several ways, from conducting balance assessments in its rehabilitation program that can generate individualized reports and develop customized action plans to offering residents content driven engagement technology that can provide entertainment and enhance cognitive function.
St. John’s also utilizes the embodied labs platform, which offers caregivers and health professionals web-immersive and VR-based training from the perspective of the aging person to increase awareness and empathy.
Daszkiewicz says there have also been technology upgrades at the senior living community, including a robust data network that helps meet the needs of the growing number of residents who use wireless devices. Enhanced digital platforms are also better connecting them to family and friends, he says.
Lesinski notes that residents have also been taking advantage of the many technology-based presentations that have been held at the senior living community of late.
Additionally, St. John’s has created some in-house programming so residents can still have access to programs virtually if they so choose, she says.
Lloyd Theiss, executive director of The Highlands at Pittsford, says the COVID-19 pandemic brought about several changes with how technology is being used there.
“COVID-19 brought forth a whole new world,” he says. “The future is now.”
The Highlands at Pittsford has since enhanced its Wi-Fi system, among other technological upgrades.
Additionally, a growing number of residents are securing their own tablets, which connect directly to the senior community’s portal and allows them to sign up for community programs, place work orders and order meals.
There have also been technological upgrades in telehealth services, which allows the on-site geriatric practice to have more options when it comes to diagnostics and health monitoring, he says.
Theiss agrees that residents have embraced recent technologies, with some opting for cell phones over land lines and others taking advantage of community lectures via Zoom.
“It’s surprising how tech-savvy they are,” he says.
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