Technology — Computerized gadgets are just for younger people,
right? Think again!
With the growing number of older adults in our society, many companies are working to develop new support technologies to enhance their health and independence. And it’s good to know that in many cases, modifying and simplifying existing gadgets is the way to make them senior-friendly.
With the aging of the baby boomers, these developments in technology are expanding rapidly. Here is just a small sample of digital senior support offerings on the horizon. Some are still on the drawing board, while others are being tested and used today.
Technology to keep seniors safe at home
Today, many seniors take advantage of home security systems, personal emergency response systems, or wander guards for those with Alzheimer’s disease. These devices are growing in sophistication. But this is only the beginning! Some of the other developments we can look forward to as we age in place include:
Enhanced home safety monitoring. The “smart home” will turn lights on as we approach, remind us if we leave the stove on, even alert us when the mail or newspaper arrives. Whole-home emergency response systems are being developed that utilize sensors in carpets, walls, clothing and footwear to detect falls, and even to track our activities for patterns that would indicate a change of health condition.
Interactive telehealth “robots” will remind us to take medications and to perform home health tests (such as blood pressure or glucose level), and will then automatically transmit the results to our healthcare provider. Telehealth promises to allow seniors to stay in their home longer, and will cut down on the number of routine medical appointments.
Dementia support technology. Today’s tracking systems prevent people with Alzheimer’s and related conditions from getting lost, while providing peace of mind for family caregivers. These will become more sophisticated, as will simple handheld devices and smartphones that offer memory prompts and reminders. Research continues on memory-care computer programs that support brain health.
Do these developments represent a “Big Brother”-type intrusion on the privacy of seniors? Most who use them say no. They report that these technologies allow for greater freedom and independence. Research confirms that for many seniors, self-esteem is supported when reminders come from a computer … instead of from an anxious family caregiver!
Online health records
Online health records promise to streamline healthcare and allow patients more control over their own care. Older adults especially stand to benefit by a centralization of their records, as they are most likely to be dealing with multiple conditions, doctors and medications. Equally important, new security technologies are addressing the important issue of privacy.
Senior fitness innovations
Today it’s not uncommon to see an exuberant group of seniors gathered around a fitness gaming console, playing 18 holes of golf or bowling strikes and spares. Few game developers anticipated how quickly older adults would embrace these motion-sensing video games! Do “virtual” sports games really give older adults a good workout? Numerous studies say yes, demonstrating that active video games can provide benefits equal to moderate intensity exercise. Several studies also show that active games can help reduce the risk of falls. Game developers who formerly focused on teens are now working on more devices targeting the over-65 user.
Many devices designed to “make life easier” for people actually have the opposite impact on older adults! A confusing, complicated menu of features and choices makes for a daunting experience, especially when there are mysterious settings to inadvertently toggle. Fortunately, more companies are studying the needs of seniors and developing models tailored for users with low vision, decreased manual dexterity, memory loss—or just a disinclination to be continually learning “what’s new.” For example, mobile phones are available with larger buttons, high-contrast numbers, amplifiable volume—even a dial tone. Computers and software with simplified interfaces are available. Intuitive remote controls make home electronics more accessible. Developers are wising up that although technology can play a critical role in quality of life for older adults, technology can also be intimidating.
Of course, these emerging trends can’t take the place of the human touch when it comes to caring for seniors. Home care agencies will work alongside families and the client’s physician to utilize these supportive technologies. With the aging of the baby boomers, with more and more older adults preferring to age in place, and with increased pressure on family caregivers, these new technical developments are expected to provide cost-effective supplemental support.
The fascinating field of senior technologies was the focus of a recent issue of the Gerontological Society of America’s Public Policy & Aging Report. “Aging and Technology: The Promise and the Paradox” examined everything from personal alarms to driverless cars through the lens of elder care. Check out the issue here.