With more people ages 50 and over wanting to stay active longer and live independently as long as possible, new technologies are being developed to help them achieve their goals.
Some smart devices are already operating in homes while new technologies are being tested in certain senior living communities. Many more are in the early stages of development.
“We’re already seeing some really interesting ways technology is being used to help people as they age,” said Ben Jonash, an author of The Future of Aging by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
The following companies are already using their technology to support seniors:
Embodied Labs uses virtual technology (VR) to allow caregivers, medical students, and health professionals an opportunity to see from the perspective of older adults. By wearing VR headsets, users can see what a person with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration, vision and hearing impairments, or other health condition experience. The users are guided through different scenarios, such as being in a grocery store, a classroom, or at home with family on a holiday.
By gaining “real insight” into the world of older adults, Carrie Shaw, Embodied Labs CEO and Founder, says caregivers and healthcare professionals can develop empathy for seniors and improve the way they deliver care to them.
So far, Embodied Labs is only sold to businesses that provide senior care, home health and home care services.
Neuro Rehab VR
Neuro Rehab VR offers a virtual reality experience to older adults undergoing physical therapy following a stroke, brain injury or spinal cord injury or to those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.
Patients wearing VR headsets are placed into different scenarios in their virtual world to do different tasks. For example, patients may find themselves in a grocery store where they are told to pick items off the shelves.
By making the therapy more engaging, patients stick with the trainer longer, says Veena Somareddy, Neuro Rehab VR’s co-founder and chief technology officer.
When people put on the headset, they forget about their pain and what they can’t do,” Somareddy said.
Neuro Rehab’s VR program is in use at outpatient physical therapy clinics. The company is also developing a home health mobile VR program so patients can continue their VR therapy at home.
Many older adults experienced loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Intuition Robotics came to the rescue by providing companionship with its ElliQ robot.
The platform for the digital robot, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities, holds a microphone and speaker, and a touchscreen tablet which offers video communication between seniors and their family members and friends. ElliQ can be placed on a table for easy access.
According to Dor Skuler, co-founder and CEO of Intuition Robotics, ElliQ can say “good morning” in 117 different ways. The companion robot can also play music, tell jokes, check the news and weather, help seniors exercise, and remind them to take their medication. And that’s not all. ElliQ can book Uber rides, and notify loved ones if seniors feel there is a need. Most importantly, ElliQ engages seniors in small talk and daily conversation to keep them company.
Earlier this year, New York state Office for the Aging worked with local organizations to offer ElliQ to more than 800 older adults. The robotic companion can be purchased by home care providers and individuals.
Just as ElliQ provides companionship, so do the Joy For All robotic pets. Ageless Innovation’s life-like cats and dogs can be just as playful and interactive as “real” pets. For instance, the puppy has a life-like coat and a “heartbeat.” Its built-in sensors respond to motion and touch of its owners, and the “Barkback” technology allows the companion pup to respond to its owner’s voice. The life-like cat has soft fur and responds to petting, hugging, and motion. Its “Vibrapurr” technology makes it sound just a like a real cat.
Ted Fischer, co-founder and CEO of Ageless Innovation, says studies show that the robotic companions are an “effective, nontraditional intervention in addressing loneliness among older adults.”
“Our purpose is to reimagine how we age positively by unleashing the power of play,” Fischer said.
The pets can be purchased by businesses and individuals.
Toi Labs has found an accurate way to track the health of seniors that does not involve medical equipment or a wearable monitoring device. But, the process is not one that people would want to talk about since it is done in private. Toi Labs developed ”TrueLoo,” a “smart” toilet seat that can monitor bowel movements and urinations.
TrueLoo, which can fit any toilet seat, has sensors that can identify the person using the toilet. It can also determine the size, consistency, color, frequency, and shape of what is excreted. TrueLoo can also detect urinary tract infections and diseases, dehydration, and other health conditions. TrueLoo sends the data it collects to healthcare providers or managers of senior living facilities.
The purpose of TrueLoo is to detect and treat serious health issues early and to prevent infectious diseases from spreading among senior living communities.
Vik Kashyap, Toi Labs’ founder and CEO, said TrueLoo will be available to the general public after clinical studies are completed at senior living communities where it is being tested.
Ernie Ianace, one of the co-founders of VitalTech, visited a senior care nonprofit and noticed the residents were not wearing their medical alert pendants, which detects falls and connects seniors to an emergency center. Inane said he discovered that “the pendants” embarrassed them
So, VitalTech developed something that seniors would not mind wearing: a wrist watch. The VitalBand is a water-resistant, sweat-proof smart watch that charges right on the wrist for 24/7 safety. If the wearer falls, an alert sends a message to a certified call center that can dispatch emergency services or send a message to family members or caregivers via text or email.
VitalTech also developed the VitalCare app that allows seniors, their family members, caregivers, and doctors to monitor their health. Through VitalCare, seniors can share their streaming vitals, historical readings, and other information. VitalCare also allows seniors to set medication reminders by the time of day, and then send them to their tablet or smartphone or via messages to the VitalBand smartwatch.
Since there is no end in sight to the aging-in-place trend, more companies are expected to enter the active aging industry with new technology to help seniors live independently in the coming years.
“We’re in the early innings of what’s going to be a very large market,” said Jake Nice, a principal in Nationwide Ventures.