Senior Age Tech
The number of tech companies developing devices that help older adults live independently in their own homes has increased over the years. But the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the creation of age tech startups, technology development for seniors, and the use of existing technology into overdrive.
Telehealth conferences and video chats via smartphones, laptops, and computers became an important way older adults could communicate with their doctors and other healthcare professionals. In addition, organizations like GetSetUp began offering online exercise and other types of classes for seniors. CarePredict, an Artificial Intelligence-Powered Digital Health company for seniors and their caregivers, added a COVID-19 contact tracing feature for residents in senior living or skilled nursing facilities.
The race to develop technology for seniors comes at a time when the U.S. Census Bureau projects that adults 65 years old and over will outnumber children by 2024 for the first time in U.S. history. This increase in the size of the older population means that one in every five Americans is projected to be retirement age.
What’s more, an AARP study shows that many of these seniors want to stay active and live in their own homes as long as possible.
To do this, some older adults are learning to use smartphones, tablets, computers, virtual assistants, and other devices to maintain social connections, take classes, and find information and entertainment. The study also found that only a few seniors are using these devices to automate their homes—at least for now.
Another study explains why older adults are not so quick to embrace technology. Although seniors favor technology and other resources that help them age in place, researchers at the University of California San Diego found that new technology is frustrating to seniors.
“Frustration appeared to be a significant barrier, which led to a lack of self-confidence and motivation to pursue using the technology,” according to Shengzhi Wang, lead author of the study published in the journal, Healthcare.
But, experts following the active-aging industry expect more seniors, their adult children, and caregivers will begin exploring technologies and learning how to use them to help older adults maintain their independence.
A report by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) forecasts the active aging industry in the United States will triple from 2019 to 2022 to nearly $30 billion. At the same time, wellness and fitness technologies are expected to reach $900 million by 2022. The active aging industry includes safety and smart-living technologies, health and remote care, and wellness and fitness technologies.
Physical Therapy Goes Virtual
The words “physical therapy” and “fun” are not typically used in the same sentence. But older patients are having a bit more fun with non-traditional physical therapy sessions thanks to Neuro Rehab VR.
The company found a way to combine physical therapy with cognitive therapy to create virtual reality therapy exercises for patients needing therapy after suffering a stroke, brain injury, or spinal cord injury or for those who have neurodegenerative diseases. A virtual reality headset allows patients to interact with the virtual world in three dimensions.
“When people put on the headset, they forget about their pain and what they can’t do,” so they stick with the training longer, said Veena Somareddy, co-founder and chief technology officer of Neuro Rehab VR.
The exercises allow people to use more their brain and senses to help rebuild their neurological pathways, according to Henry Weber, business development, marketing, and sales specialist at Neuro Rehab VR. Because of machine learning, the company can tailor exercises to a patient’s specific therapy needs and abilities.
The virtual reality exercises work on different areas of the body for neuromuscular re-education, an alternative to traditional therapy methods in which movements can often be repetitive and tedious.
For instance, retail therapy, one of the company’s many exercises, simulates grocery shopping where patients simulate taking items off the shelves. The exercise targets the upper extremity, functional reaching, and range of motion while also working on a person’s balance.
Toi Labs’ Smart Bathroom Technology
Toi Labs is a healthcare technology organization that aims to keep seniors healthy with its innovative smart bathroom technology. TrueLoo is a smart toilet seat that optically scans and analyzes the contents of a toilet bowl. The company says that TrueLoo can detect such problems as constipation, pancreatic disorders, urinary tract infection, dehydration, and other problems that can lead to hospitalization.
Catching these problems early allows them to be addressed, prevents hospitalization and more serious health issues, such as the spread of infectious diseases among senior living communities.
Products for People Living With Dementia
Some products and technology are particularly helpful for people living with dementia and their caregivers.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease struggles with time orientation. So, what’s helpful is a large illuminated display clock with large numbers and letters that show the time of day, day of the week, and date. These clocks also have alarms that can be set for wake-ups, medication reminders, and appointments.
2. SitnStand Portable Self-Rising Life Chair
The SitnStand lift seat and chair lift help seniors get up from a chair without having to push forward. The seat lifter has memory foam to make it comfortable, particularly when sitting for long periods of time.
3. Universal TV remotes
A big-button universal TV and cable box remote are easy to see and use. These remote controls usually have bright backlit buttons for seeing in the dark.
Virtual Retirement Communities
Imagine living in a retirement community in your own living room. Virtual retirement communities have been growing online over the past decade. Seniors who live on their own or those who live in assisted living facilities are joining “virtual villages” via computer, tablet, or smartphone.
These virtual retirement communities bring together socially isolated seniors and offer them a variety of services. An annual membership fee is usually charged for joining the community.
Non-profit organizations, administrators of brick-and-mortar senior retirement communities, or individual seniors coordinate and deliver services to older adults in their neighborhoods. For instance, coordinators arrange for transportation to medical appointments and grocery stores, provide a list of home repair companies, plumbers, electricians, roofers, and other trade organizations, and organize trips to local attractions, among other things.
Although some seniors may struggle with adapting to new technology, many want a better quality of life and are willing to do what it takes to remain independent. In the meantime, companies are moving forward with plans to develop even more products to support older adults wanting to age in place gracefully and with dignity.
The technology trend will promote the growth of these types of companies in the coming years, according to Jake Nice, a principal in Nationwide Ventures. “We’re in the early innings of what’s going to be a very large market,” Nice said.