Carol Smith is in a wheelchair and has limited mobility. So, she depends on her husband, Ray Smith, to do tasks around their home. The couple, who live in a retirement community in Carlsbad, California, participated in a pilot program for seniors that involved using Amazon’s Echo smart speaker and Amazon’s Alexa, a conversational artificial intelligent (AI) voice assistant that communicates with users through the Echo product.
By using Amazon’s technology, Carol can ask Alexa to control the lights and the thermostat in her home. Alexa can also remind Carol to take her medications, call Carol’s brother when asked, or call for help in an emergency. Because of Echo and Alexa, Carol no longer has to depend entirely on Ray.
“When I read, I just say, ‘Alexa, what does this word mean?’ or I ask Alexa to play the song,” Carol said in an interview. “Oh, and I’m a basketball fan, but if I can’t stay up late to watch the end of the game, I’ll ask Alexa what the score is the next morning. There are so many things you can ask her. She’s fun. And she’s always pleasant.”
New and existing technologies, such as virtual assistants, and AI-powered, digital, and electronic devices, are available—and many are still in development—to help older adults live independently, confidently, and securely in their homes.
Senior tech experts believe voice assistive technology paired with applications (apps) designed explicitly for seniors give older adults even more confidence to age in place. For instance, when LifePod, an AI-powered voice remote monitoring, and caregiving platform, is paired with a voice assistant like Alexa, LifePod can check in with seniors to see how they are doing. So, when preprogrammed, LifePod can speak—without the need for a voice prompt: “Good morning, Nancy. Did you remember to take your medication?”
Caregivers and family members can also access apps, like Medisafe, that remind seniors to take medication. Medisafe is an app that provides personalized reminders for each medication a senior takes, describes the side effects of the drugs, and whether to take medications with water or food.
When seniors forget to take their medications, Medisafe notifies their “Medifriends”—family members, caregivers or friends—who can sync to the app and receive notifications about missed medications. Linda Willis, of Guelph, Ontario, is a Medifriend to her husband, Mike Willis, who takes 27 pills a day, which includes anti-rejection drugs that ensure his body does not reject the heart transplant he received after contracting viral myocarditis.
“After my transplant, I was a little confused, so I designated my wife, Linda, as a ‘MediFriend,’ which meant she got an alert when I didn’t take my medication,” Mike Willis said in an interview.
Besides medications, technology allows family members to keep tabs on loved ones in their homes. For example, Tom Rogers lives near Washington, D.C., and he worries about his mother, Nancy Delano, a retired elder care nurse who lives miles away in Denver, Colorado. Nancy still drives to movies and plays and goes out to dinner with her friends. But Nancy also lives alone and knows that “emergencies can happen fast when you reach a certain age.”
So, because of his mother’s active lifestyle, Tom asked her about installing a remote monitoring system in her home, and she agreed. The motion sensors of Alarm.com’s Wellness system allow Tom to see if his mother is moving around in her home, if she’s sleeping and if she locked the door. The system’s algorithm also can detect her behavioral patterns and non-routine activity, such as changes in her eating habits and activity level.
“It gives both of us peace of mind, particularly as she ages and wants to live at home,” Tom said.
Needless to say, seniors need practical technological solutions available to them if they want to feel safe and comfortable living independently.
“If the goal is independent and connected living, we need solutions that are multifaceted and that connect people with their family, their doctors, their neighbors,” said Jody Holtzman, senior managing partner of Longevity Venture Advisors. “If the technology is framed in the context of fun and convenience, like Alexa, then people will start to buy these things.”
Wearable Devices Detect Falls
A popular commercial that showed the dangers of seniors living alone was one of an older adult in distress on the floor, crying out, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” The commercial advertised a medical alert system that seniors could use to call for help in emergencies.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also reports that 1 in 4 adults fall each year, which is why medical alert systems are essential for seniors who live alone.
For example, LifeStation’s Sidekick Mobile Medical Alert is a small, lightweight wearable device with a built-in GPS and advanced fall detection. So, not only does Sidekick detects when the person falls, the device notifies an emergency contact and, through GPS, identifies the wearer’s location.
A different type of fall-detection device is Tango Technologies’ “smart” belt. When the Tango Belt automatically senses a hip-impacting severe fall, the device deploys airbags around the hips to reduce the impact of the fall. The smart belt sends digital alerts to caregivers or family members for help.
In-Home Care Support Helps Seniors Stay Connected
For many older adults, living independently and aging in place means living alone and lacking transportation. While seniors may have family members, they may not live nearby, which means their visits are few and far between. Papa Inc. has a program to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation seniors may experience.
Papa Inc. is an online platform that uses apps—as well as a network of vetted, trained, and trusted people—to provide companionship and non-medical care to older adults. “Papa Pals” visit older adults and engage them in conversation, and lend a hand by doing light housework, running errands, and providing transportation. The Pals help keep seniors from feeling isolated.
Papa Inc. also works with health plans, such as Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and corporate wellness plans by providing Papa Pals, in-home help, and other services. The company also works with employers whose workers may need support in caring for their aging parents.
According to data collected by Papa Inc., 69 percent of Papa members who participated in a randomized control study reported a significant reduction in loneliness because of Papa Pals. In comparison, 45 percent reported a meaningful increase in the days they feel physically and mentally well.