by Michael Kerwin
New technologies and new initiatives are changing how and where seniors are spending their “golden” years. Seniors staying in their homes keeps them in a familiar and comfortable setting, often at a lower cost than traditional senior care facilities. With modern families geographically dispersed, the ability to stay in touch and “keep an eye on” Mom or Dad can be difficult. Emerging technologies and user interfaces can make the goal of “aging in place” a safe and practical reality. Pervasive wireless connectivity, cellular, and Internet access will be key to making aging in place a success.
These new “enabling” technologies address the key areas of communications, monitoring, and management.
Easy and effective communications is required to keep seniors connected to people, services, and the community (their village). Communications with family and extended family can be facilitated by telephone, video calls, emails, texting and social media. However, seniors are not “digital-natives” and do not find new technologies as intuitive as the people who grew up with them. Additionally, some aging issues such as memory impairment can complicate the adoption and use of these communication tools. Contrary to a common misconception that older people aren’t “connected”, as of April 2012, 53% of Americans 65 years old and older were online (Aging In Place Technology Blog). Many of these people experience frustration with software applications, social media and emerging technologies. Companies are starting to address the need for simple user interfaces by developing applications that allow one button access to video conferencing (Hangouts, Skype…), Facebook, email systems, etc. Independa, (independa.com), has partnered with Samsung and LG Electronics, developing applications for televisions and tablets that give seniors simple access to communication and collaboration tools, while providing family/guardians with common calendars and shared reminders.
GenieMD (GenieMD.com), like Independa and others, is developing medicine reminder, prescription management, and caregiver coordination applications. Their focus is on delivering simple, easy to use, reliable electronic support of the many services that the aging in place population requires.
Communication tools like these are helpful in connecting seniors to services within their community including transportation, food delivery, and emergency response.
Family and guardian support of aging in place can also be enhanced by monitoring and alerting systems. There are new wireless systems that offer monitoring of daily activities and household systems including, location sensing, toilet flushing, movement within the house, bed exiting, etc. The data gathered from these systems establishes a baseline of normal activity within the home. When unanticipated absences or patterns are detected, family and care givers can be notified, often dramatically shortening the response time to a fall or other disruption in the senior’s life. Wireless technology supports the monitoring systems and can be integrated into traditional, cellular, or cloud based communications systems. The successful integration of sensing and reporting technology into the senior living experience will result in higher levels of independence, confidence, safety, and overall more cost-effective healthcare solutions.
As people mature and move into senior living and/or assisted living environments, the communication with caregivers and family members continues to remain important. Systems implemented during the age in place period can be moved with the senior the new setting. Family members expect excellent wireless connectivity when at senior facilities and are increasingly relying on this type of communications to stay in touch with their seniors when not at the facility. Senior care facilities that welcome these new technologies and provide the supporting infrastructure for them will have a marketing and reputation advantage. Senior care facilities such as assisted living, and nursing homes may enhance the caregiver/family experience by integrating convenience technology based services, such as online bill paying, email notifications, regular electronic newsletters etc. The ability to use and implement technology to support and serve the seniors and to connect and integrate the family and caregivers leads to an overall increase in satisfaction and safety.
Michael Kerwin, RCDD, CCS, DCCA is principal at Vanderweil Engineers