From Technology Averse to Mobile Mavens – Seniors are A-Changin’

“A cordless telephone — I don’t need that. The phone on the wall in the kitchen works perfectly well.”

Sound familiar? If so, you aren’t alone.

It wasn’t that long ago many of us had to urge our senior loved ones to use a cordless phone they could carry around the house in case of an emergency and just to make it easier for them to talk with family and friend.

Of course, there were also many family caregivers who assumed the seniors in the family wouldn’t use technology, only to have them demonstrate otherwise when given a chance.

Lately we’ve found ourselves urging them to adopt smartphones — often with a lot more success. We know how many fun, useful and even vital things that they could do with a smartphone.

Not to mention how important they will be to their ability to live independently in the future.

It seems that times they are a-changin’ and so are our senior loved ones.

Accenture Study

Seniors over 65 in a dozen countries participated in a survey about mobile devices conducted by Accenture. Over 10,000 seniors were included.

This group of seniors wants to use technology – well, 67% of them said they do. When one considers that there are 3.9 million Americans who are 65 this year, the numbers could be staggering for tech adoption.

What do they want? They want more than what they think is currently available, surprisingly enough.

  • 2 out of 3 of the participants want to be able to access care from home using mobile technology.
  • They are willing to use wearables for tracking health data, such as heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Self-care tools to manage their health needs from a distance are sought by seniors, who would like to have virtual physician consultations.
  • The ability to access their health data, including lab results (57%), according to the study, which also learned about one quarter currently access their electronic health records.
  • 3 in 5 want to be part of a community of peers who get and give advice online, especially when reacting to a physician’s new recommendations.

This survey found that the primary reason (62%) driving seniors to adopt mobile technology is to satisfy their healthcare information desire.

The Accenture report also found that seniors who were the most interested using mobile technology were more proactive about managing their health and taking charge of their wellness.

In general, seniors are also beginning to do more with technology including communicating, online banking, and being entertained. They also are shopping online more and more after realizing security has improved. A recent Pew Research study found that 59% of those over 65 were active internet users during 2012-2013.

Newest Mobile Healthcare Solutions for Seniors

There are more and more innovations being created, some are still in the development phase and others are looking for funding to bring their products to market or get them cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

Here are a few types (without names since they aren’t all ready for purchase) your senior loved one might find helpful:

  1. Wearable devices worn as you would a watch that will monitor the movement of your senior. It formulates their usual pattern of activities of daily living and alerts caregivers when the pattern is broken. Designs of these types of devices are becoming more fashion friendly which may take some of the stigma out of wearing them. This kind of device benefits the family caregiver as well, by giving them peace of mind.
  2. There have been and continues to be a plethora of home monitoring devices but the trend is to combine several functions into one mobile system that is accessed through an app. Some can even be purchased and installed as a DIY.
  3. Smartphones will be used to “gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory” according to the latest update from Apple using a variety of data sources including a smartphone’s GPS, microphone, accelerometer and gyroscope.
  4. Future devices will be able to take blood sugar readings and measure asthma inhaler use.
  5. Diabetes management app that encourages blood sugar testing, formulates patterns of values, gives coaching in diet and weight management. Using these types of apps has shown a drop in A1C levels which is promising for healthy outcomes.
  6. Medication reminders can be sent using smartphone apps. If your senior loved one fails to take a prescribed drug, it will send an alert so that intervention can be done by a caregiver. There are pill bottles that will alert an app that it hasn’t been used timely. You can connect with your pharmacy and have prescription drugs refilled so they are ready and waiting for pickup.
  7. Weight management apps can provide help with calorie intakes, portion control, monitoring of intake and weight, recipes, grocery lists and motivation.
  8. Symptom checkers, doctor locators and even face-to-face visits from a doctor who can offer treatment via online, virtual visits are available as smartphone apps.
  9. There are apps that can inspect the skin for melanoma, identify a prescription drug by visualizing it, and even help your senior stop smoking.
  10. There are apps or programs accessible via smartphones that can safely store your advance directives, medication list, health records, and contact list. You can receive appointment reminders either from an app specially designed for that purpose or even a calendar app.
  11. Accessing websites via smartphone can provide information about a symptom, a disease or a drug at the touch of a button.
  12. Using smartphones or tablets to communicate with health professionals and caregivers. Talk via email, text message, Skype or FaceTime to get timely information and interventions to improve health outcomes.

Some experts warn consumers that some smartphone apps that offer medical advice may be suspect and not peer-reviewed for accuracy and therefore unsafe if not verified by your doctor or replace current medical treatment.

Estimates of 100,000 health-related smartphone apps are helping consumers, especially seniors, manage their own health. Hopefully this will lead to improved health, quality of life, longer independence for aging in place, fewer ER visits and hospital stays and lower healthcare costs.

That seems to be well worth the time it may take family caregivers to get technology into the hands of seniors and help them use it securely and confidently.

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