Some people call it “monitored independence;” a trade-off between senior adults and the people who care for and about them.
Whether it is in a long-term care community or in their home, technology is advancing to provide a protective environment for seniors as they begin to feel the effects of aging on their bodies and minds.
The inability of concerned family members and even staff in long-term care communities to be ever-present, and Mom or Dad’s desire to not have someone physically watching them for hours on end, are driving this technology that is becoming ever more sophisticated and personalized. Below are just some of the ways that technology improves quality of life for seniors.
Monitoring and Managing Health and Home
The primary question for family members with a senior adult who is living at home is “what’s happening or not happening when no one else is there?”
Are they eating well? Taking their medications? Have they fallen? Are they sick? Why haven’t they answered my phone call? Today there are a host of ways to monitor what is happening in the home without actually being there.
For example, activity sensors give adult children information about their parents’ daily activities, including whether or not they are taking their medications correctly, how many times they’ve opened the refrigerator or bathroom doors, or if they have used the microwave. The sensors can also pick up if behavior patterns have changed. All of this information is available by logging on to a website. And some systems will alert the adult child if something seems out of the ordinary.
Technology is also available to enable family members to be a part of a doctor’s appointment remotely. And GPS pendants or wristbands for seniors can be monitored to track where seniors are located.
Wearable remote fall detection devices like those by MyNotifi alert family and friends if a senior falls.
Digital pill dispensers such as MedMinder dispense medications to seniors. A caregiver fills the medicine tray and can remotely schedule when medications are to be taken. The device unlocks to make the medications available and beeps if they have not been taken, and the family caregiver is notified as well.
Reminder Rosie is a talking clock that can be programmed to remind seniors to take their medication via a prerecorded voice message from a caregiver. Personal messages can also be recorded with other reminders such as “it’s time to exercise,” “remember we’re coming to visit tomorrow,” or “I love you.”
To view the activity levels of Mom or Dad, smartphones can be linked to a Fitbit worn by a parent.
Seniors are discovering the capabilities of the Amazon Echo and other personal assistant devices. Echo can control lights, thermostats in the home, and remind seniors to take their medications or call a friend or relative for help. Ask Marvee integrates with Echo via an online portal to allow seniors to immediately contact family members in case of emergency.
How are seniors adapting to all this technology? Studies show they are increasingly adopting it, and generally approve of its use if it provides them with a degree of continued independence. 67 percent of older adults now use the Internet and 46 percent use smartphones. This is a dramatic increase compared to just a few years ago.
Technology in Senior Living Communities
In long-term care, assisted living, and retirement communities some of the same technologies are being used to monitor movements of residents and when out-of-the-ordinary events occur. Called passive monitoring, the effort is to balance good supervision with safety and care while respecting residents’ desire for privacy and independence.
Another development is virtual care technology, which enables offsite medical professionals to deliver care in the senior living community. Because a resident’s medical issue may not be critical, a virtual consult with an offsite provider can assess the situation via video and recommend treatment without the additional disruption of a trip to the hospital. And residents can participate in routine virtual visits with their physician as well. Personalized music programs using iPods downloaded with the music residents prefer and remember are available in many facilities, helping senior adults to reconnect with their past and relieving confusion and agitation due to dementia.
Welcome to the Future: Technology Improves Quality of Life
Seeing all of this technology in use might feel like the future, today. Quality of life is a big focus for technological advances. And technological advances are following a personalization trend. Certain technologies will learn the individual habits and preferences of their senior adults—what they are likely to forget or overlook, and what needs the most attention in their daily lives.
Robot pets are on the market for senior adults. Companion robots can act as a calendar reminder, alarm clock, and connect to home security systems. No cleanup afterwards is required.
Stoves are being developed that notify users if they have been left on for too long.
As the U.S. population ages, technology improves quality of life and makes it increasingly possible to live a more monitored, but still independent life, longer and better than ever.
Learn more about how Bethesda is integrating technology into our senior care efforts, and find more technology advancements like these on our blog.