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Connected Aging: Will Technology Help Seniors Live At Home Longer?

Connected Aging: Will Technology Help Seniors Live At Home Longer?

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Regular followers of Senior Care Corner® know that we are advocates for technology to help seniors stay safe, healthy and happy, enabling them to age in place as long as possible.

We routinely cover topics about innovations in technology that are either directly meeting the needs of our senior loved ones in their homes or indirectly meeting those needs by helping family caregivers be more effective.

We recently learned about another great initiative we believe can be useful to family caregivers and the seniors they love.

Staying at home seems to be everyone’s goal, at least as long as they are safe. In fact in a recent poll, 91% of seniors age 50-90 report that they want to live in the own home. What’s even more important is that 96% say it’s important to be as independent as possible as they age.

Valuable Current Technology

There are numerous applications for our senior loved ones to use technology to fill the gaps in their care and to make their day more engaging.

These are just a few examples of how seniors engage with technology on a day to day basis to improve their health and wellness.

  • Internet connections – communicating with family members, grandchildren and friends around the globe through email, photo sharing, websites, Skype, FaceTime and other platforms that bring the family circle close to our seniors.
  • Telehealth – biometric monitors such as blood pressure monitors, weight, blood glucose, oxygen levels, text messaging, email and face to face screenings can prevent frequent hospitalizations for our seniors and help them connect with their health care team to adjust the treatment plan for improved health.
  • In-home monitoring – Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) have been around for many years and their capabilities to connect seniors with family caregivers and first responders continue to improve. There are sensors now that will pattern our seniors behavior and alert caregivers when they stray from that pattern which could signal trouble.
  • Smartphone Apps – Using a smartphone has opened up many possibilities for seniors. You name it and there is an app for that. You can store you medication list, advance directives, medical history, access the internet, quit smoking, get a medication reminder, read a book, or always have a magnifier and flashlight handy. Of course your senior can read email and takes photos too.
  • Wearables – Seniors can use devices from the vast selection of wearables to track their heart rate, help them manage their weight and track their fitness just like the ‘youngsters.’ There are more in development now that will do other important health related readings and upload the data directly to the doctor.

Aging Well Initiative

There is a collaborative that meets to explore solutions using technology that will help all of us, including our senior loved ones, age in place. The Aging Well Initiative is a partnership in research between Philips and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative and is essentially a think tank, trying to learn about and bring partners together to solve issues related to technology adoption to benefit seniors.

They found that, despite the statistics that most of us want to age in place at home, only 21% of those polled have plans to use technology to help them maintain their independence.

This initiative is trying to change that number by encouraging efforts that will cause older adults to accept technology and adopt it into their lives to improve their independence over the coming years.

In order for more seniors to adopt the current and near future technology they want it to meet these criteria:

  • Easy to use – avoiding making a technology solution too difficult to learn, start up or keep accessing is important. It needs to work with all types of abilities, including arthritic fingers or diminished eyesight.
  • It all works together – they don’t want fifteen devices and cords in order to take health measurements, getting the information to the doctor, getting a response, change their treatment plan and then communicating that with their family caregiver. Make it connected.
  • Security – is their information private, can they safely share health information or will their identity be at risk?
  • Cost – it has to be affordable. The initial cost of equipment and set up as well as the ongoing cost of connectivity must be something that brings them value on a fixed income. Can their insurance pay the costs associated with telehealth?
  • Way to connect – will they be able to connect? Some seniors either are not in a location that has access or can’t afford the connection to the internet and wireless services in order to make use of the latest technology.
  • Learning curve – can seniors be taught, who will teach them and who will help them troubleshoot when things go wrong? The fear of technology is strong for many seniors.

Overcoming Barriers to Adoption

Aging seniors and their family caregivers are beginning to adopt more technology into their lives as they begin to see the value in certain applications.

It is interesting to note that, despite the fact that learning how to use technology is a strong barrier for many seniors and one report stating that family caregivers may actually be standing in the way of seniors adopting technology, the poll found that 75% of caregivers think teaching tech to seniors would be fun.

What’s more, 66% of seniors receiving care reported that they are ready to learn about technology.

What is holding family caregivers back from getting their senior loved ones connected?

It seems family caregivers are finding it hard to find time they expect it will take to bring the latest technology to their seniors. Just doing all the daily tasks required to provide care is limiting their ability to find, procure and teach senior loved ones innovations that could improve their quality of life and ease the caregiver burden.

In our experience, some family members seem convinced their senior loved ones won’t like or be able to learn to use technology and thus see an attempt as a waste of time. More often then not, there is a pleasant surprise when they decide to try.

72% of family caregivers report that they are capable and knowledgeable enough to teach their senior’s about technology if time permitted. 82% believe that technology can make aging a better experience.

However, if there were some extra hours in the day or week to teach their seniors about technology which could benefit them all, caregivers report that they would spend that time in pursuit of other activities including spending time with personal errands and their own family unit or even on entertainment not involved with their care recipient.

Tech Should Benefit Caregivers, Too

The Aging Well Initiative believes that in order to be successful at connecting seniors with technology it is important that “instead of just focusing on the physical well-being of the care recipient, we now know that technology solutions need to be mutually beneficial, giving the caregiver time back in their day, as well as addressing the social and emotional needs of the care recipient, in order to have a meaningful impact on both their lives.”

While many are waiting for the next innovative device or application or those that are currently here to be developed further in some way, seniors and their caregivers may be missing out on opportunities that are available now.

There are tech solutions that can help you and your senior loved ones now. Small steps today could make it easier to attempt the bigger ones in the future.

Perhaps if you don’t have the time to get started, you might know a teen in the family who would love to take the lead!

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

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