Future of Senior Care & Aging in Place – Science Fiction Meets Tech Reality

Innovation in technology has changed all our lives significantly — mostly for the better — in the last thirty years but may have had the least positive impact on the lives of our senior loved ones who are living independently at home.

But we see that changing — and soon.

We at Senior Care Corner see upcoming technology having great positive impact on seniors, especially those choosing (if they have options) aging in place in their own homes.

This isn’t based on some pipe dream of what-ifs and distant futures, either. Much of what we foresee is based on what we’ve already encountered in early stages at the International CES or heard/read from innovators is being developed. Not their vision of what might be developed but what is already the subject of efforts to make reality.

In other words, we see it as a matter of when seniors will get the benefits of this technology rather than if – and the “when” is closer than we imagined even a couple of years ago. The technology is already available for some of it so it’s just a matter of a few extra pieces, adapting something already used for other markets or purposes or even just having the foresight and reach to bring it all together.

Here’s a quick glimpse at what we see…

Seniors’ Homes Anticipating & Meeting Their Needs

Family caregivers often worry about older family members living alone because the capabilities of bodies and minds, once reduced by age, illness and/or injury, make it harder or even unsafe to accomplish some of the basic living activities. While concerns about those for whom we care are likely to always exist, upcoming technologies for homes will make it easier and safer for our senior loved ones to live in comfort.

While there are already digital devices in the home today (or in the near future) we can operate by voice command or scheduling functions built into the devices, significant benefits to seniors will come when their homes will anticipate their needs, such as:

  • Knowing, because of a tiny wearable sensor, which senior is coming out of the bedroom first this morning so that their coffee can be started and the daily paper brought up on the screen next to the chair where the coffee is enjoyed.
  • If a can of soup is being heated on the stove, how long it will take to heat the soup to proper serving temperature and then turning the burner off (or to a warming setting) to avoid overcooking or a fire that might result because the soup was forgotten.
  • Turning on appropriate lights and providing notification of an icy sidewalk when the seniors are preparing for their evening stroll.
  • Sensing that the senior has left on a trip and adjusting the heating, cooling and other systems appropriately to save on the energy bill – and then returning everything to normal operating settings (based on the current weather) upon the return home.

These are but a few examples of ways technology will improve the comfort and convenience of those aging in place. Even these seemingly minor activities, though, may combine to mean the difference between being able to live independently or needing assistance for a senior loved one who prefers aging in place.

Senior Care & Healthcare Needs Met in the Home

Providing for the healthcare needs, both current and those that may arise, of our independent older loved ones is another ongoing concern for many families. Is she taking the right medications at the right time, how will we know if he has a recurrence of an earlier illness – or a first heart attack or stroke? Again, these are but some of the functions we see technology filling with little or no need for intervention by the senior:

  • Monitoring vital signs in real time and notifying the healthcare team if they fall outside the programmed range or contacting emergency responders if immediate care is needed.healthcare team member on computer
  • Ensuring the right medications are taken at the right time by the right person – and notifying pre-established contacts at healthcare providers or family members if that’s not the case or if prescriptions go unfilled.
  • Automatically, using sensors and the web, checking medications brought into the home, whether prescription or over-the-counter, and providing notification if there is the potential for adverse interaction.
  • Sensing if there has been a fall and contacting emergency responders if the senior does not indicate otherwise or letting the senior indicate if a family member or neighbor should be contacted to provide assistance.  This will provide assistance to a senior who has been incapacitated by a fall or whose fall was the result of being incapacitated without the need for the senior to initiate an alarm.

This just scratches the surface of the many health-related innovations that will make it possible for seniors to live where they choose longer than today, likely improving the level of care many receive at a lower cost.

Elimination of “Taking Away the Keys” Discussions or Worries

Even with technological innovation there will still be healthcare needs that can’t be met – or a senior chooses not to have met – in the home and for which travel is needed. Today that means arranging for a ride or having the senior take the wheel of his or her own car, which may be a concern to family members worried about the senior’s ability to safely drive or to find their way to their destination and back home.

Not in the future.

Self-driving vehicles are, we feel, likely to become reality before too long, relieving many worries about seniors getting safely to their destination on time and then home again.

If they don’t own their own car, the vehicle of a family member, friend or a local service will be able to pick them up, get them where they want to go, and deliver them home again – all without the need to schedule or worry about a human driver.

Monitoring & Privacy Concerns

Much of the technology that will enable seniors to live longer at home independently will, as discussed in the examples above, involve some sort of monitoring of the seniors in their homes. That very concept turns off a lot of us, no matter our age, as an unacceptable invasion of our privacy. It’s something with which we have to deal to get the benefits of the tech advances.

We feel the nature of the technology itself and some education will get us through this barrier.

Discussions of monitoring seniors in their homes often leads to responses such as “I won’t have cameras watch me” or “I don’t want my children to know what I’m doing all the time.” It’s hard to argue with that because we share those feelings.

There are some see characteristics of home monitoring that we see must exist before new aging in place technology will be readily adopted – and before the benefits can be realized.

  • Monitoring must not leave seniors feeling like they are being monitored. Cameras, if any, must be in areas that are not sensitive or allow others to watch everyday activities except in the case of unusual needs. Monitoring devices can’t be bulky or unattractive devices that remind seniors they are constantly connected to the world and leave them self-conscious about what others think.
  • Data collection and reporting should be limited to what is needed to act on the senior’s behalf, such as medically necessary information prescribed by the healthcare team and exceptions to the defined normal, so senior loved ones don’t feel they are living their lives under a microscope, with every action or inaction subject to discussion or critique. That data should only be collected for the benefit of the seniors, unless they give express permission otherwise, and not for studies or other purposes.
  • Security associated with data collection and reporting about seniors’ health and activities must be at a level that engenders trust. Nobody wants to live in fear their activities could end up plastered on their friends and neighbors Facebook pages or used by a criminal to take advantage of them.
  • Access to all monitoring data must be acceptable to seniors and configurable so the healthcare team, family members and others only have access to information they need and are trusted to use appropriately.

Comfort with technology and being connected to the world is key, which makes it even more important that we as family caregivers advocate the use by our senior loved ones of today’s tech, including smartphones, tablets and other connected devices. That means helping them get comfortable using and living with technology, not just giving a gift and leaving it to them to learn.

Who Will Pay

That IS a big question that has yet to be answered, one that comes up any time technological advances in the area of health are discussed. Should government programs for seniors pay? Insurance companies? Seniors and their families? All will surely see benefits from the advances.son showing mother how to use tablet

If these advances in senior care and aging in place are like most technology innovation, the price may be high initially but will quickly come down, even as the products continue improving.

Let’s be honest, at least some (if not much) of the impact will be to the benefit of family caregivers and other loved ones, especially those living at a distance. Coming innovations will reduce the worry about the safety and health of older loved ones living on their own and likely avoid, or at least delay, the often unpleasant and even confrontational discussions about the need for a move to a senior living facility where required assistance and care can be provided.

As family caregivers and loved ones, what is our peace of mind worth?

We would love to get your views and comments on this important topic. Please leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Leave a Comment