As CES®, the global technology event, draws near, visions of innovation dance in heads of many a nerdy type.
If you’re a resident nerdy type at Senior Care Corner®, those visions are of technology home seniorization — the devices, applications and services that will support healthy, safe and happy aging in place.
The combination of planning for our coverage of CES 2016 and questions we have received about future technologies for senior homes got us thinking about our ‘ideal’ tech seniorization package.
This article is the result of that thinking. It’s neither a forecast of what will be available nor what we see as the ultimate in technology, but how we would like to see tech come together for seniors based on what is available and things we understand are not too far away.
Seniors are not all alike, having a wide range of interests and needs like those in other age groups, so our vision is not of a cookie cutter home package but a menu of offerings that can be tailored to each household.
Intelligent & Private Personal Life & Health Monitoring
One of the most needed technologies for independent aging in place is also one of the greatest controversy generators.
Family caregivers of seniors living on their own worry about the health and safety of their loved ones — a worry shared by many of the seniors themselves.
Technology today offers a number of monitoring solutions, including cameras and sensors, that let caregivers know if their senior is moving around the home as expected. Many even provide a view of activity in the home, which goes beyond tracking to provide visual confirmation of well-being.
Privacy Important to Many
Unfortunately, many seniors — understandably — feel their privacy is being violated by these monitors, which they feel allow their children and others to intrude too deeply in their lives.
The answer from many is to say we (the seniors of today and tomorrow) have to overcome resistance to privacy loss as a tradeoff for the ability to age independently.
We look to technology to offer a better solution.
The solution we see is a sensor that monitors the health and well-being of seniors but does not report data as a matter of routine.
Incident-based Reporting Only
Instead, parameters are established for the device. When the sensor detects a situation that is outside the established parameters, the device notifies designated family members, healthcare providers or emergency personnel.
Such situations could include . . .
- Vital signs indicating a health-related issue, such as an illness or even heart attack
- Body motion indicates the senior has fallen and has not gotten back up
- GPS capability indicates a senior with dementia has wandered outside preset boundaries
- Nutritional intake including hydration reflects a senior not eating enough to maintain strength and health
. . . and much more.
With this technology the senior’s independence and privacy are maintained until an immediate threat to health or safety is detected.
Technology for Safety, Comfort and Convenience
Intelligent personal sensors are just the beginning of our dream innovations in home seniorization.
Our menu of technology will cover each room in the home and offer something for every need an aging senior may have.
Some of the features our seniorization innovations have in common include:
- Voice control, for ease of operation by those with physical limitations, with programmable recognition of voices allowed to issue instructions, for security of operation
- Controllable through the senior’s mobile device (smartphone or tablet) and computer
- Self-monitoring and diagnosis for the technologies, with reporting to designated individuals or services when a device or system is not operating properly or is close to failure
- Backup power supply to keep essential devices and systems operating during a power outage until either electric service is restored or alternative arrangements can be made for the senior
Here is a sampling of the menu of options for key rooms. Some of these items are available now, some coming soon, and others are hopes of ours.
The kitchen is one area where innovation contributes to health, safety and convenience for our senior loved ones.
- Cabinets that respond to voiced instructions — such as “teabags, please” — to bring requested items to the front and within reach
- Sensors that provide notifications when food is out of date, or spoiled while still within the date, and are able to send messages to designated caregivers if those foods are used or not removed
- Stove controls that time burner operation based on the food being cooked to avoid burned food and fire hazard if the cooking food is forgotten or the stove top left on
- Microwave ovens that read the bar code on food packages and automatically set the cooking level and time for each food item
- Pantry inventory system that automatically reorders food that is in low supply so the senior does not go without needed nutrition or alerts caregiver when food not eaten timely
The bathroom is where many accidents and injuries happen to our senior loved ones. In addition, medication errors can blunt the effectiveness of treatments at best and can result in harm, and even death, to seniors.
- Automated medication systems that have a number of features, including
- Dispensing the correct medications in the correct dosage at programmed times, with notification to the senior
- Instructions for the dispensed medicine shown on a video screen and read audibly
- Automatic ordering of refills when needed or notification of healthcare providers when an appointment is needed before refills are prescribed
- Notification of designated family caregivers or healthcare providers when medication is not taken at designated times (this may work in tandem with the personal health monitor)
- Computer controlled water temperature for sinks and bathing
- Shower and tub grab bars that adjust to the height of the users and move to facilitate sitting and standing
Entry doorways present challenges to the well-being of seniors in many ways, such as falls and visitors who intend to separate the seniors from their belongings or money.
- Video doorbell that provides notification and pictures of visitors on mobile devices and televisions
- Voice-recognition locks and door openers that let seniors enter or leave the home without having to release assistive devices or put down what they are carrying
- Locks that are remotely unlocked by a senior’s personal monitoring system to allow access to the home should a fall or medical issue trigger notification to neighbors, family, or emergency personnel
- Sensors that provide notification when ice, snow or other potentially harmful condition exists outside the doorway
- Remote control pet door that allows for remote control of pet exit and entry for seniors with mobility issues without sacrificing security
Much, Much More Possible
We have only scratched the surface with our list of items our aging in place technology menu would include.
Not even touched here, but things we see important to meeting the needs of at least some seniors, are personal assistants, technology for housekeeping, laundry innovations, and transportation options.
Let’s not forget entertainment options that make it easy for seniors to enjoy their favorite books, music, movies, and shows in a manner that is convenient to them and free of the frustration many (of all ages) can experience finding things.
We look forward to a full range of home seniorization technology becoming available, not just for us (which we expect will happen) but in time to provide benefits for our own senior loved ones.
For those of you who are technology innovators — or simply forward thinkers — what have we left off our list that should be included?