New Technologies for Safer Senior Living
With the aging of the baby boomers, developments in technology are expanding rapidly. Here are just a few examples of computer-driven senior support offerings on the horizon. Some are still on the drawing board, while others are being tested and used today.
Technology to keep seniors safe at home
At a recent convention of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, one of the most popular exhibits was the model “Idea House.” This display demonstrated some of the many ways technology can support aging in place, including systems that monitor the well-being of elders in innovative ways.
Today, many seniors take advantage of home security systems, personal emergency response systems, or wander guards for those with Alzheimer’s disease. But this is only the beginning! Some of the other developments we can look forward to as we age in place include:
Enhanced home safety monitoring. The “smart home” will turn lights on as we approach, remind us if we leave the stove on, even alert us when the mail or newspaper arrives. Whole-home emergency response systems will utilize sensors in carpets, walls, clothing and slippers to detect falls, and even to track our activities for patterns that would indicate a change of health condition.
Interactive telehealth “robots” will remind us to take medications and to perform home health tests (such as blood pressure or glucose level), and will then automatically transmit the results to our healthcare provider. Telehealth promises to allow seniors to stay in their home longer, and will cut down on the number of routine medical appointments.
Dementia support technology. Today’s tracking systems prevent people with Alzheimer’s and related conditions from getting lost, while providing peace of mind for family caregivers. These will become more sophisticated, as will simple handheld devices and smart phones that offer memory prompts and reminders. Research continues on memory-care computer programs that support brain health.
Do these developments represent a “Big Brother”-type intrusion on the privacy of seniors? Most who use them say no. They report that these technologies allow for greater freedom and independence. Research confirms that self-esteem is supported when reminders come from a computer…instead of from an anxious family caregiver!
Online health records
Online health records promise to streamline healthcare and allow patients more control over their own care. Older adults especially stand to benefit by a centralization of their records, as they are most likely to be dealing with multiple conditions, doctors and medications. Equally important, new security technologies are addressing the important issue of privacy.
Senior fitness innovations
Walk into a senior living community today and you are likely to see an exuberant group of residents gathered around the facility Wii, playing 18 holes of golf or bowling strikes and spares. Few game developers anticipated how quickly older adults would embrace these motion sensing video games! Do “virtual” sports games really give older adults a good workout? The American Heart Association says yes, demonstrating that many active video games provide benefits equal to moderate intensity exercise. Another study suggested that active games such as “Dance Dance Revolution” can help reduce fall risk. Game developers who formerly focused on teens are now working on more devices targeting the over-65 user.
Many devices designed to “make life easier” for people actually have the opposite impact on older adults! A confusing, complicated menu of features and choices makes for a daunting experience, especially when there are mysterious settings to inadvertently toggle. Fortunately, more companies are studying the needs of seniors and developing models tailored for users with low vision, decreased manual dexterity, memory loss—or just a disinclination to be continually learning “what’s new.” For example, mobile phones are available with larger buttons, high-contrast numbers, amplifiable volume—even a dial tone. Computers and software with simplified interfaces are available. Intuitive remote controls make home electronics more accessible. Developers are wising up that although technology can play a critical role in quality of life for older adults, technology can also be intimidating.
Of course, these emerging trends can’t take the place of the human touch when it comes to caring for seniors. But with the aging of the baby boom, with more and more older adults preferring to age in place, with the increased pressure on family caregivers, and the pressing need to control healthcare costs, new technical developments will continue to provide cost-effective supplemental support.
Technology and eldercare expert Lori Orlov’s Aging in Place Technology Watch blog is a great resource for keeping up with the latest news in “silver tech.”
Copyright © AgeWise, 2013