Senior Age Tech
It’s sometimes difficult for adult children to talk with their parents who want to live independently but need someone—or something—to monitor them in their homes. Susan Morrell, 50, said she and her siblings had to have “the talk” with their 75-year-old father, Larry, and 76-year-old mother, Carole, who uses a walker and has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The conversation came after Morrell’s parents ended up in the hospital at the same time.
Morrell’s parents now wear a Philips Lifeline medical alert that can be worn around the neck or wrist and can sense when a person has fallen. The device connects the wearer to an emergency response center.
With the growing number of “smart” products available, seniors can have a pendant, wristwatch, a virtual assistant, or even a lamp to contact someone for help. Smart technology is helping seniors live life on their own terms and lets adult children who live long distances know that help is available if their parents need it.
Many older adults want to age in place rather than move into a long-term care or assisted living facility. So, the need for smart technology is vital since the number of people over 65 years old is expected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050, according to projections from the National Institutes of Health.
Technology Enables Quality of Life
According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), technology that supports active aging is important to finding and maintaining a quality of life for many older adults. In fact, the CTA projects that the marketplace for technology that assists aging adults is expected to triple in the next three years to nearly $30 billion, with wellness and fitness technologies expected to reach $900 million by 2022.
Some seniors acknowledge that they will eventually need help with daily living activities. So, with help from family members, some seniors are learning how to use wireless technology, like Bluetooth, voice-activated speakers, and smartphone apps. And, technology firms are continuing to develop devices to help older adults successfully age in place.
Hip-Hope Technologies Ltd., for instance, created a belt with sensors that can detect when a person is falling. The belt deploys two large-size airbags to protect the person’s hips, then automatically sends a signal to a predetermined destination that will get emergency responders to the person’s location.
To encourage tech companies in their efforts, AARP established an Innovation Lab to accelerate the growth of startups that design products and services that help people 50 and older.
One company, Nobi, has developed smart lamps that automatically turn on when a person stands up. When the smart lamp detects a fall, the device will ask if the person is all right and needs help. If the person needs help, the smart lamp can call a family member or other predetermined contact.
Companies, similar to Nobi, are expected to grow along with the older adult population in the coming years, according to Jake Nice, a principal in Nationwide Ventures, a company that invests in startups. “We’re in the early innings of what’s going to be a very large market,” Nice said.
Most Commonly Used Technologies
While new products are under development, some devices and systems that seniors use have been around for a while. Some of the products that are popular include:
Phone Apps. Apps can do everything from helping older adults monitor their heart rate to allowing them to read the latest news. Information collected by health apps can also be transmitted to doctors. Apps also allow caregivers and family members to keep track of seniors.
Global Positioning System. The navigational system, more commonly known as GPS, is primarily used to locate people and vehicles. GPS is a great tool in locating seniors who may wander, which is common for people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
Cameras. Cameras can track the movements of seniors and are useful for capturing when someone abuses an older adult.
Personal Safety Alert System. A click on a wearable bracelet, a smartphone app, or other product can get emergency responders to seniors in need of assistance.
Medication Assistance. Adding new technology to existing devices help seniors to manage their medication. For instance, a “smart” pillbox can connect to a smartphone through Bluetooth to send signals to remind seniors when to take their medication. Family members, with the apps, can also check to see if their loved ones have taken their medication.
Patches or Implants. These devices can help seniors manage their health conditions. For instance, a transdermal rivastigmine patch is used to improve mental function in people with dementia who have Parkinson’s disease.
Technology Benefits Caregivers, Too
Smart technology is also a big help to family members and caregivers. Tech experts say digital monitoring of an older adult’s health and safety can reduce caregiver burnout. And, products, like the one produced by Embodied Labs, help caregivers understand what seniors are experiencing.
Carrie Shaw, CEO, and founder of Embodied Labs says the company’s immersive training program allows caregivers to take on the persona of the people they care for with virtual reality headsets. Once caregivers put on the headsets, the product offers simulations of older adults with different health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and macular degeneration.
Shaw says the program’s purpose is to help caregivers develop empathy and compassion toward seniors that they care for and provide insight into an individual’s health condition. According to Shaw, the idea of the immersive program stemmed from caring for her mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 51 and Shaw was 19.
Tech products can be used at the same time by caregivers, like Mike Beadles, a disabled veteran, whose 85-year-old mother lives with him. His mother, who has Parkinson’s disease and dementia, needs to be reminded to take her medication. So, Beadles, 61, makes a personalized, pre-recorded message on the Reminder Rosie voice-controlled reminder clock. His mother describes her son’s voice on the clock as soothing.
According to Life Assistant Technologies, which created the clock, a family member programs Reminder Rosie by saying something like, “I love you, Mom. It’s time to take two blue pills and one yellow pill.” Once the person takes the medicine, the person either says, “reminder off” or touches it to turn it off.
Beadles wife, Heyyoung, credits Reminder Rosie for reducing her stress “because I don’t have to be nervous either one will miss a dose.”