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February 3, 2021 — RIT.edu — Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business has announced an extension of its unique partnership with Jewish Senior Life, a Continuing Care Retirement Community based in Rochester, N.Y. Over the next five years, the Jewish Senior Life Innovation Collaborative will support the development of research materials to explore how new technologies may impact and improve the lives of seniors, including supporting research stipends and resources for students.

TekHub, a technical support offering for senior residents in Jewish Senior Life’s independent living residence, The Summit at Brighton, kicked off the partnership in March 2020. Residents make appointments with Noah Wallace, a fourth-year computing security student from Rochester, N.Y., who was instrumental in developing the initiative. Wallace assists with technology inquiries ranging from best practices in password protection to Roku troubleshooting and accessing family Zoom calls. These interactions are then recorded and analyzed to identify common questions, challenges, and successes, allowing RIT’s Saunders College to create innovative solutions to address often encountered challenges.

“There’s a cycle going on where we observe, learn, and help,” said Victor Perotti, Benjamin Forman Collaborative Research Professorship in Saunders College, who leads the RIT students in this research. “Then we take what we’ve learned and feed it back into the system to try to improve the overall technology literacy and technology confidence in that community.” Some of these solutions come in the form of resident-wide webinars, while other challenges require more extensive solutions.

Initial research suggests that technology challenges seniors face today are not primarily due to physical limitations, such as vision or hearing loss, as previously believed. Rather, challenges stem from lack of awareness or education.

Wallace explains, “When presented with smart devices, which have been around for over a decade now, residents still don’t have the fundamentals to interact with the technology. The generation that grew up with smart devices gradually became accustomed to needing precise tapping, advanced swiping, and having to navigate cluttered menus; but these skills were never taught to the seniors who have just began to use these new devices. There’s a vast contrast between their knowledge and that of someone who has been using devices like iPads or smartphones their whole life.”

Once they’re taught how to use the device, the research suggests, seniors do not return for additional help.

“The work we’re doing with Saunders College is critical to the well-being of our residents, especially during the pandemic when technology is crucial in maintaining connections with loved ones,” said Jewish Senior Life President and CEO Michael King. “We’re thrilled to continue to build upon this successful collaboration to improve the lives of aging people within our community.”

Over time, the Jewish Senior Life Innovation Collaborative will expand to include applied analytics work, machine-learning capabilities, and even robotics with help from RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. The ultimate goal is to improve the mental and physical health of seniors through technology.

“Our goal is to help the whole community have a better relationship with technology and enjoy all the rewards that come with that. Things like better social connections, better health, and access to things they wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” said Perotti. “Jewish Senior Life is an exceptionally innovative organization and therefore a superb partner for this.”