Anyone who thinks older adults would prefer to shy away from technology rather than learn how to use smartphones, apps, computers, and other electronic devices should think again.
Surprisingly, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic had a hand in helping seniors sharpen their tech skills, according to a survey conducted by healthinsurance.com.
Six in 10 older adults said they have embraced technology during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a survey of more than 1,000 Medicare Eligible Seniors. The participants, age 64 older, were polled from July 17 to July 20 on various topics, including life during the coronavirus pandemic and their use of technology.
Survey results found that seniors are using technology for the following reasons:
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctor’s offices closed after states issued shelter-in-place orders as a way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. So, many doctors cared for their patients online through virtual healthcare visits.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, only 10 percent of seniors surveyed said they used telemedicine. After the pandemic hit, 44 percent said they used telemedicine during the outbreak. Of the people who used telehealth services, 58 percent said they used it just once, while 30 percent said they use it once a month.
2. Information and Entertainment
Survey participants kept up with the latest news by watching television and using social media. Facebook was the most used social media platform.
While many consumers are canceling their cable or satellite subscription, 66 percent of seniors in the survey said they still have cable TV. What’s more, 75 percent have a smart TV or streaming device, and 47 percent binge-watch shows.
Seniors stayed in touch with family and friends during the pandemic via video chats, social media, texting, and phone calls, survey results show. Fifty-four percent of seniors said they had video chats with their children and grandchildren, while 32 percent said they had a video chat with their friends.
Smart Homes Have Arrived
Tech firms, researchers, and scientists are developing innovative devices specifically to help seniors live in their own homes, monitor their health and maintain their safety. And, the new wave of tech is more than just an HD radio with an alarm clock and snooze button. These high-tech devices involve Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can be programmed to not only say, “Good Morning” but to turn compatible smart lights on in the morning and off at night.
Besides AI, sensors are also used in technology for seniors. For example, a “smart” mattress with sensors can tell whether an older adult had a good night’s rest. A team of researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia developed a hydraulic bed sensor that sits under a mattress. The sensor monitors the adult’s nighttime restlessness and picks up the movements of the heart and lungs to measure heart rate and respiration.
Sensors can also be mounted on the walls of a senior’s home to monitor their daily movements and routines, tracking each time the person enters and leaves a room.
The sensors perform what researchers consider a “virtual check” that allows caregivers, who can also monitor the sensors, to determine whether the older adult is undergoing any type of change. For instance, frequent trips to the bathroom at night detected by a smart mattress sensor could be an early warning sign of a urinary tract infection, or increased restlessness could mean the person is in pain.
Google and Amazon are making their contribution to smart home devices. Google, for instance, has patented smart mirrors and an optical sensor that can gather noninvasive data about a person’s cardiovascular health. The sensors are etched into the mirror which can detect changes in a person’s physical appearance, such as changes in skin color which indicates an uneven blood flow caused by a heart condition. The data can be sent from the sensor to a connected smartphone. A caregiver or older adult can choose to send the data to the person’s doctor.
Amazon Alexa can be programmed to tell when users aren’t feeling their best. Amazon patented a system that can detect “abnormal” physical or emotional changes based on the user’s voice. For example, the Alexa user’s voice may change because of a cough or a sore throat. If Alexa determines what’s wrong (particularly if the user asks the AI about the best way to manage a sore throat), the voice assistant can target advertising for cough drops or cough medicine. Alexa can then ask if the user wants to place an order for the product.
A Digital Companion For Seniors
A survey of adults over 65 found that 90 percent want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. And, 80 percent believe their current residence is where they will always live, according to the survey conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the AARP Public Policy Institute.
But, unless older adults have an in-home caregiver or a friend living nearby, seniors will be alone if busy family members are unable to visit their loved ones every day. Briocare, based in Frisco, Texas, has developed a voice-controlled platform, driven by artificial intelligence, that may reduce the worries of family caregivers and provides companionship for their loved ones.
With healthcare shifting from acute care settings to homes, BrioCare Founder and CEO Shaun Mitra expects his platform to offer a new kind of health service.
With help from Amazon Alexa, Briocare’s voice-controlled platform acts as an older adult’s digital companion as a way of reducing social isolation and loneliness in seniors who live alone.
With Briocare, seniors and family caregivers can use an app to create daily routines that may include medication reminders, exercise nudges, meal times, and planned activities. Seniors can choose preselected music, news, health tips, memory games, and other activities by asking Amazon Alexa to start Briocare. Every evening, Briocare generates a daily well-being report of the older adult’s activities, along with health and safety tips.
Mitra views Briocare as a way to improve the quality of life of independent seniors and reduce the stress of caregivers.