Emerging Technologies to Help Aging Americans Maintain Their Independence
There’s a movement going on among older adults in America. A growing number of people 65 years old and older are declaring their independence by aging comfortably in their own homes. And, emerging technologies are helping them achieve their goal.
While it may take seniors, their family members, or caregivers’ time to learn how to use new devices, the need for older adults to embrace technology is crucial. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has not only shown the benefits of smart home technology but older adults’ willingness to use new tools that help them live on their own.
Laurie Orlov noted in the April 2 edition of her blog, ”Aging and Health Technology Watch,” that many tech companies have been offering free tech services to help independent seniors and those in senior living communities make it through the COVID-19 crisis.
One company was CareTree, which has software that allows family members, caregivers, home care agencies, healthcare professionals, and others to coordinate and manage care for older adults. SeeYouLink software helped seniors secure private face-to-face video calls with their family members or friends.
Family members also search for tech products that help them remotely monitor their loved one’s activities while maintaining their privacy and independence. For example, in-home motion sensors, smartwatches, medical alert systems, and other devices have technology that detects when a senior falls and connects them to an emergency response contact.
Technology geared toward seniors is expected to grow as the size of the older adult population in the United States continues to climb. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of people 65 and over will surpass the number of children in population size by 2034. In that year, older adults are expected to number 77 million while children under 18 are expected to number 76.5 million, according to census projections.
White House Report: More Tech Solutions Needed for Aging-in-Place
Tech firms are using artificial intelligence, wireless networks, and other systems to improve the health and well-being of older adults. And, these firms are getting encouragement from the federal government which approves of innovations that support seniors living independently.
In March 2019, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report that outlined six key areas in which technology can enhance the safety, independence, and health of older adults. The report also offered recommendations for developing technology over the next decade for the following key areas:
1. Key Activities of Daily Living
Daily living activities that were once easy to do, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, preparing meals, and managing medications, have now become difficult tasks for many older adults. The report recommends, advancing smart home technologies, such as sensors, apps, and even robots to support independent living and devices that promote safer, more accurate medication delivery.
2. Cognitive Skills
The normal aging process affects brain function, memory, sleep, the speed of processing information, and other cognitive abilities. According to the report, research should continue on developing technology to help older adults monitor change in their cognitive functions, and provide mental training to reduce the effects of these changes. Technology is also needed to help independent seniors handle their financial matters.
3. Communication and Social Connectivity
Maintaining a healthy social life is just as important for older adults as maintaining their physical health. The lack of ability to hear, speak, see, and touch others can lead to reduced quality of life. Without continual communication with others, some older adults living independently can feel socially isolated, lonely, and depressed.
The report calls for putting technology in place that strengthens social connections for older adults, especially those who have hearing loss, and who live in economically distressed or rural areas.
4. Personal Mobility
Staying mobile is key to older adults who want to age in place. And, that means helping those with mobility and balance problems get around inside and outside of their home. In recent years, tech firms have been developing exoskeletons for seniors that give mobility to impaired legs and arms. But, for the most part, seniors receive help from caregivers, family members, or friends to walk from room to room, transfer from the bed to the bathroom, or a chair, as well as walking outside of their home.
The report recommends, among other things, developing smart robotic technologies that not only respond to an individual’s mobility needs but can be modified based on the older adult’s requirements and usual habits.
Nothing says independence to an older adult like driving. In many cases, however, changes in cognitive or physical abilities can limit an older adult’s ability to drive. The report recommends developing technologies that can measure driving fitness, and help seniors continue driving.
Technology can also extend to public transportation. Innovative systems can help older adults navigate, schedule, and access buses, taxis, trains, and other modes of transportation.
6. Access to Healthcare
Many seniors have two or more chronic health conditions. So, access to health care plays a critical role in helping older adults remain independent. Since seniors have been encouraged to shelter in place during the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth services (that works via laptops or smartphones) have helped seniors stay connected with their doctors and other healthcare professionals.
The report recommends expanding on telehealth services by developing and implementing, sustainable telehealth programs and evaluating their impact on patients, families, and clinical teams.
Are New Technologies Affordable?
According to Laurie Orlov, for seniors to incorporate new technology, the devices must be affordable and unobtrusive. But, even though some devices may be considered expensive, some older adults may feel the cost is worth it if it helps them maintain their independence, and alleviates family members’ concerns over their loved one’s plan to age in place.