As the number of older Americans increases in what has been called the “silver tsunami” and the number of people who are caring for them decreases, the role of technology to help fill the void is anticipated to grow.
By 2020, baby boomers will all be seniors, as part of the estimated 20% of the US population will be over 65.
Technology continues to improve how we all, especially senior loved ones, can interact in our environment. Technology, despite the obvious limitations of cost, accessibility, user knowledge, and security, can help seniors live independently more safely with an improved quality of life.
Advancing Technology Solutions
There are a number of technology areas that will provide needed solutions to enable our senior loved ones to age in place with health, safety, and comfort.
These are a few areas about which we think family caregivers may want to learn more.
Robotics is one area where our senior loved ones will see benefit of technology.
Robots, telepresence devices, robotic pets, and virtual social companions are already available and used by older adults across the world because they bring companionship in the absence of another person. The number and capabilities of these robots will continue to expand.
Let’s all remember that caregiving robots are not intended to replace the human touch. For many older adults, including elder orphans, having this technology available will help to keep them company, link them to caregivers, and assist them with some of the tasks of everyday life.
Artificial intelligence will allow caregiving robots to react to the senior for whom they care — not just stand by idly waiting for a command. It will be able to answer questions, motivate seniors to do daily tasks, and be social to help aging in place seniors.
Robots don’t get frustrated with repeated questions and they don’t have expectations of their seniors, which may make daily life easier for older adults.
Personal assistant devices that are voice controlled like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s Siri will increasingly use artificial intelligence to do many things in the home such as turn on music, TV, manage smart home devices, get the news and weather report, control temperature, purchase products online, and many other tasks.
Autonomous (Driverless) Cars
The ability to get around by car is important for seniors, not just for their independence but also to get to doctors’ appointments and more, but for many the ability to drive is limited due to declining ability.
Artificial intelligence advancements are working to bring autonomous driving experiences to us all. Benefits of transportation without the pitfalls of accessing public systems or relying on others will help aging in place seniors continue to live independently.
Getting to doctor’s appointments, getting to the pharmacy when needed, buying and carrying groceries home, visiting friends, attending faith services and socializing in the community gives seniors a quality of life that will enable them to age in place longer.
Aging in place seniors, especially in rural communities, often have trouble getting to the physician for regular checkups and especially emergent conditions due to transportation issues. They may also be too fragile or the dementia too advanced to sit in waiting rooms for extended periods so avoid seeking medical care.
Telemedicine can give senior loved ones access to healthcare services from the comfort of their own home when it becomes harder to get to the doctor.
Not only are doctors, healthcare systems, and the VA performing visits virtually, they are also monitoring vital statistics and making treatment changes to improve the health of seniors. They can update prescriptions and order medications from the pharmacy electronically.
House calls through virtual platforms are growing, which is helping not only aging in place seniors but those who must travel long distances to find a healthcare provider.
Access to high speed, secured broadband networks will be key to participating in telehealth applications. Electronic health records through patient portals which keep track of medical history, medications, vaccinations and tests also require high speed broadband access.
Daily Living Hacks
Seniors who are aging in place and their family caregivers are identifying gaps in functional abilities versus needs.
These gaps are quickly being filled with technology solutions, although perhaps not as quickly — and sometimes at as low a cost — as some might like.
Technology is helping with device solutions that can aid when mobility and functional ability decline, which is inevitable for our senior loved ones. While family caregivers are working to prevent decline, aging is a natural process and physical changes will occur with age.
Advances in daily home technology means that devices are beginning to be truly connected. There are home systems that can connect devices providing increased benefits.
Here are some current technology solutions for common aging concerns:
- Falls – Fall sensors, in-home and wearable monitors, alerts for caregivers, and — in the future — embedded footwear that alerts if the normal gait pattern is disrupted. Many of these sensors and wearables connect to a response system for emergency help when needed. Fall prevention help is coming in the form of a monitor that adds training on how to fall without injury.
- Medication Management – Pill minders, automated dosing systems, smartphone apps to alert if and when medications are taken, reminders that alert when it is time to take a medication. The FDA has recently approved embedded sensors in the actual medications that will confirm that the pill was actually swallowed!
- Depression – Virtual companions, Skype and Facetime, virtual reality, video/music streaming, email, Facebook/photo sharing, and other ways to keep seniors fulfilled and engaged can reduce loneliness and depression.
- Dementia / Cognitive Loss – Apps and websites for brain games and socialization opportunities. One example is Skyping into a local senior day program to socialize with peers from home.
- Chronic Disease Monitors – Vital sign measurements informing healthcare providers and alerting caregivers.
- Pain Management – Non-pharmacological pain control devices that send signals to the sensory nerves along the surface of the skin or spinal cord stimulation reducing pain signals; radiofrequency therapy.
- Safety – Automatic shut-off devices for stoves and other dangerous appliances, locks or doorbell security to prevent unwanted intruders from gaining entry, home monitoring and lifestyle patterning to alert caregivers of impending trouble, CO2 and radon monitoring, programmable and sensing thermostats, and many more home safety devices and apps available.
- Personal Safety (PERS) – More and advanced personal emergency response systems that can follow seniors as they venture out of the home and away from the ‘home base’ unit using GPS monitoring at greater ranges. PERS are also increasing their capabilities to include more services which helps expand the operability and benefits.
Wearable technology has found its way into many of these categories including fall detection, wandering, chronic disease monitoring, and physical health.
Healthcare providers warn that consumers need to ensure their health apps, medical devices, and wearables are medically approved and proven to provide accurate results. They are finding some digital products sold directly to consumers are not accurate or reliable.
Family caregivers may want to discuss products of interest with their healthcare provider to determine which will work within their systems.
Family Caregiver Technology Concerns
There remain concerns that may be preventing caregivers from connecting their senior loved ones to beneficial technology.
We believe that the more you know, the more you will find that these concerns can be overcome and workarounds found to bring the technology into everyday use.
Manufacturers have addressed many caregivers’ concerns and are meeting the challenge in creating devices that truly serve aging adults.
- User experience
- Data Security
Technology can benefit seniors and give family caregivers peace of mind that they are as safe as possible living independently.