What does being 92 years old, Facebook, and assisted living have in common?

If you have met my great Aunt Helen, you would know. She lives in an assisted living facility in Canton, Ohio, is 92 years old (so she says, but the women in our family have a tendency to lie about things like this), and uses Facebook to stay in touch with her family and loved ones. It took her two weeks to accept me as a friend! At that time she had over 200 friends but since then has “cleaned” her Facebook and recommend others to follow.

You may be thinking, Oh, she’s a little old Italian lady that probably reads what is said but does not actually converse back and forth. Wrong! She prays for us, wishes us happy birthday, and when I posted that I took a shot at making my grandmother’s recipe for Pina—an Italian Easter bread—she asked how it turned out and said that she made it as well.

So why am I blabbering on about my aunt, Facebook, and assisted living? It’s simple: Design Professionals and the LTC field need to wake up! We need to be designing for our loved ones to stay connected and Facebook and the Internet are two of the greatest tools. Everyone can communicate at any time, versus having to wait for a visit or phone call. I consistently hear operators and staff insist that their residents would not use the Internet or Facebook. I’m not sure if they realize how belittling they are being and that they are taking away another connection to their families and loved ones. Wouldn’t it be something if using the Internet became an activity for the residents? We could design great space for seniors to get online, have headsets for ease in listening, use larger fonts and screens, and make Internet usage a daily or weekly activity at the least.

So the next time you think your residents are too old to use Facebook, remember Aunt Helen. I vote to Helen-ize all assisted living