Technology and seniors seem tailor made for a wonderful friendship, but it has taken a while for them to warm up to each other.
Seniors have long lagged other age groups in their adoption of the devices and services powered by technology.
Today over 50% of older adults are active on the web but there are many who still are not.
On the other hand, the tech industry hasn’t seemed to focus on the wants and needs of seniors until recently, aiming products and promotions at a younger audience.
Fortunately, things have been warming up of late and show promise of a great, mutually beneficial relationship.
We at Senior Care Corner® see an “Internet of Seniors” coming together and making it possible for more older adults to live independently, aging in place in the home of their choosing, longer than is possible for many today.
Internet of Seniors
Much discussion of our digital future includes talk of the “Internet of Things,” referring to the billions of devices that are expected to be connected with the web in coming years. Many estimates put the number of connected devices at several times the number of people living on Earth.
While we understand the thinking behind the Internet of Things label, we would rather focus on the people using and benefiting from connected devices rather than the devices themselves.
Thus, we prefer to talk about the Internet of Seniors, putting the focus on the millions of older adults whose lives will be enhanced through web-connected technology and its benefits.
Our visions of — and hopes for — the technologies that will make life happier, healthier and safer for our senior loved ones (and, yes, their family caregivers) are a big reason we have been attending and reporting on the International CES for several years.
Benefits of Internet of Seniors for Independent Aging
We expect the Internet of Seniors to enhance the lives of older adults in many ways, some that are coming into clear view already and others that are still but a glimmer on the horizon.
These are just some of the ways we see the ability of seniors to successfully age in place being enhanced by technology, most of them already providing benefits today.
Staying Closer to Family
Connecting with family has been a challenge for seniors for a generation or more, with physical distance and busy lives making it harder to stay current with the lives of children and grandchildren.
Technology has already changed that, providing a big reason for older adults to use digital devices and social networks they could not imagine being useful not long ago.
These are just a few of the ways smartphones, tablets and computers are bringing seniors and families closer together.
- Email and text messaging are filling the gap for the letters that have long gone unwritten and unmailed, with an added benefit of making communication more immediate.
- Social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are adding pictures and video to the family connections.
- Skype, FaceTime and other video calling apps are bringing connections to life, enabling communications far beyond what words and voices alone provide.
Engaging with the Community Around Them
As seniors age in place longer in their own homes, a growing number become isolated, unable or unwilling to get out of the house and into the community as they did when younger.
Web-connected devices enable seniors to go beyond being an audience for what’s happening in the world, as they are with TV news and their daily newspapers.
Seniors today are able to share their thoughts and feelings about happenings in their local communities and beyond via social networks, interactive features on the websites of traditional media, contacting government officials and countless other means. Not only do seniors benefit from this engagement, but so do the communities in which they become active.
Bringing the World Marketplace to Their Homes
Many seniors are limited in their ability to shop, whether by the selection available in their community, their lack of transportation to stores, or a desire to avoid what is an increasingly crowded and hectic shopping experience.
Web connected seniors are already finding what many feel to be a better and more convenient shopping option.
The ability to order almost everything they could want on the web — can it be long before we strike the “almost” — with greater selection and often lower prices, with delivery to their doorstep, means seniors don’t have to feel they’re imposing on others to buy what they want and need.
Online shopping options include most — in a growing number of place all — the food and other grocery items our senior loved ones need to enjoy a nutritious diet. That includes hot meals, with private delivery services in many communities filling a needed role when dining establishments do not.
Living Independently But Not Isolated from Assistance
While independent aging in place is desired by a majority of senior adults, the ability of many to do so is limited by the concerns of family caregivers and healthcare providers about what may happen when the seniors are on their own.
Yes, there is internet-connected monitoring available today but many seniors understandably are not thrilled about the intrusion on their lives. We expect more will accept that as a trade-off for the ability to live on their own, especially as more who have lived with the openness of the web become seniors.
There are more subtle and less intrusive ways technology and the Internet of Seniors will enable independent living. Here are but a few.
- Devices that let family caregivers or independent outside monitors know if the senior has the food in home that they need and if that food is out of date.
- Connected thermostats that signal designated monitors if the senior’s home is too cold or too hot, as it might be if the HVAC system isn’t working properly or if the senior has adjusted the thermostat to an unsafe range to save on energy bills.
- Sensors that notify family members if an electrical device is damaged, a cord is frayed, the stove has been left on, or any of a number of other situations that could result in a deadly fire.
Healthier Living Without Leaving Home
One of the greatest needs of many seniors is healthcare, which is often complicated by a shortage of local providers, lack of transportation for visiting providers, and cost that is out of reach of growing numbers of older adults.
By necessity technology is going to make healthcare more accessible to more seniors, often in the comfort of their own homes.
We’re not talking about eliminating the office visits that are often essential in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, but we do expect it to be greatly enhanced by the reach of technology into seniors’ homes.
Many seniors will be able to substitute technology for office visits when it comes to such things as the monitoring of vital signs and routine communications with the healthcare team.
In fact, the ability for more frequent checks of the vitals and communication could improve the level of care our senior loved ones receive, without the stress of going to the doctor’s office and the exposure to what other patients in the waiting room may be carrying.
Freedom and Mobility Thanks to Driverless Transportation
Some of you are likely rolling your eyes, but driverless cars and other vehicles seem almost certain to be a part of our future.
For seniors who are unable to drive, don’t have a car, or simply don’t feel comfortable venturing out onto ever-more-crowded roads, the ability to be picked up at home by driverless transportation returns to them the freedom that is now only within reach if they drive their own cars.
Older adults who don’t feel they are imposing on family or friends for a ride are going to be more likely to get out of the house to go to the doctor’s appointment, do their grocery shopping, and take part in social activities.
Additional benefits of driverless transportation will be no longer having to remember the address to which one is traveling (or of one’s home) and peace of mind for family caregivers, who won’t have to worry about mom or dad getting behind the wheel.
Just Scratching the Surface
When we think about everything technology is enabling for those of all ages today, it’s clear the six benefits we have highlighted here are just scratching the surface of what the Internet of Seniors will mean to our senior loved ones — and to us as we age.
The focus on technology we have at Senior Care Corner® keeps us watching not only what is today but scanning the horizon for what will be in an even brighter future for aging in place seniors and their family caregivers.
The benefits of the Internet of Seniors will grow even more essential as our population and family caregivers continue to age and professional care providers become stretched and even more expensive than today.
We look forward to reporting on additional innovation as it develops and pointing you to technology beneficial to our senior loved ones as it becomes available.