Age In Place: Growing Older And Happier In Your Own Home

Age In Place: Growing Older And Happier In Your Own Home

Age In Place: Growing Older And Happier In Your Own Home

As the older adult population increases in the United States, new technologies are being developed to make it easier for seniors to maintain their independence.

One area of technology that’s exploring innovative ways to help older adults realize their goal of growing older in their homes is robotics. For example, the California-based Hello Robot company is gaining attention with “Stretch,” a compact, lightweight robot that’s programmed to assist with household chores.

Videos on Hello Robot’s website show Stretch taking clothes out of a dryer and closing the dryer door, wiping coffee stains from a countertop, vacuuming a rug, picking pillows up from off the floor and placing them on the sofa, and watering plants.

Stretch is being developed specifically for in-home care, according to Sonia Chernova, an expert in interactive computing at Georgia Tech University, and the lead principal investigator with AI Institute for Collaborative Assistance and Responsive Interaction for Networked Groups (AI-Caring).
Stretch and other robot helpers are designed to do simple chores and fetch items, says Chernova, whose AI-Caring team is also looking into ways robots can help around the house.

While some robots are still in the trial stages, older adults are using smartphones, apps, sensors and other technology to realize their goal of aging in place. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”

Tech companies and advocates for seniors are focused on supporting the older adult population due to their growing numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people age 65 and older climbed from 35 million in 2000 to approximately 55 million in 2020. And, many of these older adults say they want to age in place.

It’s commonly assumed that seniors are adverse to technology, but a Pew Research Center survey found the use of technology by people 65 and over “has grown markedly since about a decade ago.” This was made
quite evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when seniors sheltered in place and used computers and smartphones to order food and groceries, set up telehealth appointments, and stay in contact with family members and friends.

“Nurse Lisa” Conway, a registered nurse and vice president of Senior Partner Care Services in Viera, Florida, says that educating seniors about how technology helps them to age in place is essential.

“We educate our in-home care and care management clients and families about how these technologies can improve safety and enhance quality of life,” Conway told Florida Today. “They’re usually surprised to learn that many items are simple to use and can really help control costs.”

Popular Technologies Used By Seniors

Smart home technologies are not just a benefit for seniors, but also for their caregivers and adult children who can monitor them with their smartphones, apps, and other devices. For example, a motion sensor can detect when an older adult falls or when there is a potential fire hazard and send an alert to caregivers or family members.

Also, sensors and voice-activated devices can turn smart light bulbs and light fixtures on and off in the home. Apps connected to Wi-Fi can adjust the temperature on a smart thermostat, as well as turn on a smart stove or oven. Smart medication dispensers can organize, schedule, and dispense medication right into a person’s hands or cup. Smart home technologies can be programed for daily routines and personal preferences.

Of all the devices that seniors find essential to aging in place, smartphones, computer tablets and laptops top the list since these devices help seniors stay connected to family, friends, caregivers, and their community.

Learning how to use a computer for the first time may be intimidating for some older adults. The good news is companies are building computers, tablets, and laptops specifically for seniors with screens that are easy to see and easy to read. The electronic devices allow older adults to participate in telehealth visits with their healthcare providers, play games, send emails and texts, read the latest news reports, and have video chats with family and friends. Many come with a secure network to keep the devices safe from scams, malware, viruses, and other online threats.

Aging in Place Survey

As a way to find out how older adults use assistive technologies in their home, how they plan to use them to age in place or why they are not using it at all, U.S. News & World Report conducted a survey in March of 2,000 U.S. adults age 55 and older.

Many survey respondents reflected the views of older adults across the country who say they don’t use assistive technology because they cannot afford it or they feel by using it, they will lose their independence. On the other hand, of the number of respondents who use assistive or health-related technologies, 88 percent said technology has improved their quality of life.

The survey found the most widely used technologies among older adults include:

  • Medical or health-related mobile apps
  • Wearable medical or health-related trackers
  • Service-related apps that help with grocery and food delivery
  • Assistive smart home technologies
  • Hearing assistance-related devices
  • Medical alert system/devices

Survey respondents said using assistive or health-related technologies makes life easier for them, gives them a sense of independence, makes them feel safer and healthier, and provide greater mobility. However, respondents added that for them to adopt new technologies, what matters the most are that they are:

  • Easy to use
  • Easy to set up
  • Accessible using a mobile app
  • Wireless

What also matters is having a home that is prepared for aging in place. In some instances, older adults will need to modify their current homes if they want to maintain their independence in the future.

The majority of survey respondents (93 percent) said aging in place is important to them, but only 19 percent of the survey respondents felt their current home was ready, while 59 percent felt their home was somewhat ready. In addition, 41 percent felt their current setup was minimally ready to not ready at all because their home lacks no-step entry, a voice- or remote-controlled thermostat, virtual assistant devices, and other assistive products.

“As the number of adults age 65 and over continues to increase, it’s important to know what they need in order to assist their aging process,” Kristen Mollica, assistant managing editor of U.S. News & World Report’s 360 Reviews said in a news release. “Better understanding the technologies that have brought the most value to their lives gives families and businesses an opportunity to best support them.”

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