Aging in Place Update
When older adults say they want to age in place, chances are they will need to remodel their homes to do so. The renovation, for instance, may call for installing grab bars in the shower, widening doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs, and replacing knobs for handles.
So, older adults may need to seek help from designers for their remodeling efforts. About 40 third-year students studying industrial design at Virginia Tech hope that seniors will, one day, turn to them for help.
The students have been working with residents of Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg, Virginia, on age-in-place remodeling designs. Students assumed they knew what seniors would need in their homes. But, they were surprised at the frank feedback residents gave them.
“As opposed to loved ones, they’re not afraid to tell us our idea is not going to help them,” said Jordan Jones, a Virginia Tech student. “You know, my grandma would be like, ‘Oh, that’s so great, Jordan.’ But they’ll just tell us, ‘I don’t want that.’”
Students are learning a valuable, real-life lesson when it comes to making aging-in-place plans for seniors: Don’t assume you know what older adults want.
“We’re getting rid of our assumptions, our preconceived notions of the struggles that these people have on a daily basis,” said Farida Hanna, a student in the class. “You can get caught assuming a lot just by being around your grandparents or your own parents even, but it’s completely different being able to talk to people who live in a senior residential area and hearing what their problems are and what their friends are dealing with.”
Besides creating aging-in-place designs, Virginia Tech’s project is also about teaching students how to “look through the eyes of someone else” and incorporating their needs into the decision-making process, said Martha Sullivan, department chair and an assistant professor of practice in industrial design.
With more seniors wanting to live independently as long as possible, the race is on to help seniors age in place. Nearly 9 in 10 people between 50 and 80 years old who responded to a University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging said they wanted to remain in their homes as they grow older. But the challenge comes in finding ways to help older adults achieve their goals so that they can live safely and comfortably in their own homes.
And, as the aging-in-place trend continues to grow, it’s going to take a team effort and communication among each member—seniors, their families, caregivers, health care professionals, and aging-in-place specialists—to get the job done.
AI Platform Connects Those Helping Seniors Age in Place
Ashish V. Shah’s father had in-home caregivers, was in and out of senior centers, and was being seen by healthcare providers. Sadly, Shah’s father died unexpectedly. After his father’s death, the caregivers told Shah about how they had watched his father’s health decline. Shah said the caregivers had no way to share this information with his father’s healthcare team or insurance company, “and not with his family in a way that we could intervene to try to change his care trajectory.”
At the time of his father’s death, Shah said he was a healthcare executive at a company that helped 1,300 hospitals connect ambulatory care sites, as well as exchange data between hospitals, primary care, and labs. Yet, “nothing we were doing was ever going to touch the home and community,” Shah said.
So, in 2015, Shah and David Coyle, another healthcare tech expert, launched DINA, a digital nursing assistant platform, and network powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). The care-at-home platform allows hospitals, healthcare plans, in-home caregivers, families, and seniors to stay connected—no matter where they are physically located—and coordinate care for individual seniors.
The resources that healthcare facilities have—professional medical staff, equipment, and technology—to take care of patients are not available in a person’s home. But, Shah says DINA’s AI platform can bring all the team members together, but not at the same time, to share information.
“They’ll come at different points and in different shifts, so sharing that information becomes critical,” Shah said.
Technology Enhances Communication With Seniors
Technology designed for aging in place not only helps seniors but also has benefits for family members, friends, and caregivers. Gaining insights into seniors’ daily activities and health via technology opens the door to communication. In some cases, adult children are uncomfortable talking to their aging parents. But technology can strengthen the care relationship, according to Dwight Raum, a member of the Forbes Technology Council.
Raum credits technology for helping him communicate more with his father.
Raum said his father is approaching 80 and values his independence. However, Raum says his father is often skeptical about a certain technology, particularly when he questions its need and appears invasive.
However, the technology Raum’s father uses that Raum can also access provides him with information on what his father is doing. For instance, Raum said he was shocked when he found out that one day alone, his father had climbed 17 flights of stairs and, on another day, had walked more than 8,000 steps. Raum relayed his excitement to his father, who simply told his son that he racked up high numbers on the days he played 18 holes of golf.
“Indeed, these insights lay the groundwork for future conversations when he might not be as mobile or healthy,” Raum wrote in an article in Forbes on healthcare technology for aging in place. “If I can say to him, ‘Look, Dad, you’re not moving or sleeping enough,’ we have shared facts on the concern, teeing up the discussion about what he can try.”
Raum said not only does having insight into his father’s daily activities make it easier for them to discuss lifestyle and wellness issues, it is also “setting us up for potentially more difficult future discussions.”
At Virginia Tech, students learned that having one-on-one conversations with older adults at Warm Hearth about their aging-in-place needs and goals is just as important as providing them with ideas for a redesigned home.
Just as residents told students what would not work for them, there were some ideas students came up with that were helpful.
“Hearing them express that what we’re doing could help them really means a lot,” said student Tess Lunetta. “We can imagine what could be helpful in scenarios, but actually sitting down and talking to someone who will be using it and hearing them say, ‘Oh, I know what I can use this for,’ it’s really validating.”