CES Wrap for Senior Living: Wearables, Smart Homes, Driverless Cars & Robots

Robots to assist seniors aging in place at home and family members providing senior care? We’re not talking The Jetsons but real life.

Not today, maybe — but science fiction is becoming current reality every day. Robots will be ready to help seniors in their homes (and the rest of us too) in the not-too-distant future.

It’s not just robots, either.

In fact, the most important advances for seniors may come from continued advances in wearable health devices, the long awaited blossoming of smart homes — or maybe another area altogether.

CES 2014 Meanings for Seniors

Based on the crowds drooling over the latest 100+ inch ultra HD TV for your living room or cutting edge digital technology for the car would be considered by many as the star of the 2014 International CES.

That’s not how we saw it, though.

For us at Senior Care Corner, the highlight of CES was the enhancement of senior care and living, aging in place in particular, that innovations in technology will mean for seniors in the years to come.

Then again, we tend to view most things through the eyes of the family caregivers for whom we write, evaluating what we encounter based on what it means to healthy, safe and enjoyable living for senior loved ones.

CES 2014 had many things we saw as cause for excitement, with three areas in particular standing out as being very meaningful to seniors and family caregivers. They aren’t being designed specifically to meet the needs of seniors, but don’t need to be in order to provide benefits.

  • Wearable health and fitness devices
  • Smart home systems
  • Self-driving cars
  • Consumer robotics

Let’s dig a bit into each of those.

Wearable Health & Fitness Devices Mean Independence

We’ve written quite a bit of late at Senior Care Corner about wearable health and fitness devices and what they mean to seniors. CES reinforced our thinking and more.

Sure, today’s wearables are primarily purchased and used by those who are physically active — and those who are trying to become more active. Yes, that includes some seniors and there are benefits to our older loved ones, but the real benefits of today’s wearables is what they mean about the devices to come.

Company executives, innovators and other experts throughout the CES conference sessions talked about the wearables of the future. There will be devices of interest to all ages, including those that track health indicators and other important measures for seniors who desire to age in place and remain independent in their own homes as long as possible.

So how do devices that track and report on seniors contribute to their independence? These devices will enable many seniors to stay at home who might otherwise need to move into senior care facilities or live with family members because of individual health or care needs.

Wearables will keep seniors effectively closer to their healthcare team and family caregivers by digitally linking observations and vital sign measurements that might otherwise require close personal care. The digital links will lead to more enjoyable and safer lives for many aging adults, letting them live longer on their own terms.

Smart Home Systems

Technology has been promising for several years that we will eventually be able to connect the appliances, lighting, entertainment and other devices in our homes to give us more convenient control and greater enjoyment. So far that’s a promise unfulfilled for those who either don’t have a great deal of disposable income or aren’t hands-on techies, but the fulfillment seems closer with each year’s advances.

What does a connected home mean for a senior loved one who isn’t into the latest tech gadgetry? Plenty. We’re talking about a home that meets seniors’ needs more conveniently, safely and securely by giving them greater control with a digital reach via their smartphones, tablets or a dashboard on their TV screen.

That’s a connected home, though. A better home, but we have still more advances ahead to make them “smart.”

We realize many seniors – and those younger – won’t get a lot of benefit from connected systems they have to actively operate from a smartphone. What does offer the promise of real benefit is a home that is truly smart enough to anticipate the needs of it’s residents without the need for operating apps.

So a home that’s truly smart sounds farfetched to you? Not to several of those who spoke in CES conference sessions and many in audiences throughout the conference. In fact, it sounds like such smart controls aren’t far off.

Consumer Robotics

Robots in the home during our lifetimes? Yeah, sure.

That’s what I would have said before sitting in on a few CES robotics sessions and talking to folks on the show floor, all of which left me optimistic (thought not totally convinced) many current seniors will have the opportunity to experience assistance from a robot helper in their home.

Think about what robotic assistance could mean. Seniors with reduced mobility, for example, might be able live on their own longer if they choose, with help to accomplish the day’s tasks.

Oh, the possibilities!

Self-driving Cars

Yes, you read that correctly. There was a good deal of discussion at CES about cars that would safely and economically transport us where we need to go without the need for a human driver. These autonomous vehicles are still a bit away according to Ford Motor Company’s Gary Strumolo but will come ultimately. Think about how safe our roads would become if we didn’t have to be worried about distracted, inexperienced or just plain dangerous drivers.

There are a lot of hurdles to be overcome by this innovation before it gets on the road but think about the benefits for seniors. Getting to the doctor’s office, shopping or anywhere else without relying on someone else for transportation reopens – or retains – a world of independence.

For family members, think what it would mean to know senior loved ones are able to travel as they wish without worrying about them behind the wheel because their eyesight or reaction times aren’t what they were in younger years. Currently we have innovations such as rear camera back up help with ultrasonic senors, improved safety in airbags to mitigate the effect of accidents and easier to open back gates with just a foot movement to open or close the hatch. More innovations and autonomous vehicles are on the horizon.

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Technology

Technology promises much that will improve the lives of seniors in the years to come, but are they – or even we as family caregivers – ready for it? Those from generations that didn’t grow up with technology focused living might not be quick to welcome wearable devices, homes that do things for them and robots around the house.

How do we prepare them for technology and the benefits it will offer?

One suggestion was offered at CES by Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari (yes, that Atari), Chuck E. Cheese and a number of other companies. Bushnell, who is a senior himself, suggests we all read three science fiction books each year and get our children to do the same. I would extend that to our senior loved ones as well.

Why science fiction? SciFi expands our minds and will make us more accepting of the innovations to come, some of which may only exist in today’s fiction and the mind of an innovator who’ll make it happen.

Another way to prepare seniors for the technology of tomorrow is to help them get comfortable, and see the benefits associated with, the technologies of today. If they aren’t using a smartphone, tablet, video game, smart TV or other device, help them get started.

We really think your senior loved ones – and you – will be glad you took the time to get them started.

I wonder what new and exciting things we’ll encounter at CES 2015!