Did you know that you can still purchase an “ear trumpet?” They are listed on Amazon for $20 and described as a “great party gag gift.” In the 13th century, hollowed-out cow and ram horns were used as aids to hear. The “modern” ear trumpet was invented in the 18th century and was in use until the wearable electronic hearing aid was created in 1938. (It required a battery pack to be strapped to the leg of the owner.)
In all, it took 800 years from animal horns to the first electronic hearing aid. In the 60 years that followed, transistor technology (1952) made the device less cumbersome. As transistor size shrank in the 1960s, hearing aids became even smaller, and the first digital hearing aid appeared in 1996. By 2000, hearing aids were being programmed for customized use.
Today, hearing aids and other devices and services help older adults or those with disabilities engage in activities that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. They are called assistive technology (AT), and 15 million Americans now use some form of AT.
The “technology” could be as rudimentary as a cane or as advanced as a companion robot. And the innovation and subsequent array of products are advancing at an exponential pace in one of the fastest-growing industries around.
Let’s look at what is out there.
Getting a Grip
As people age, hand strength and dexterity tend to decrease, making it harder to do everyday tasks. To help, assistive technology includes:
- Easy-to-grip silverware
- Bed bars
- Reaching tools
- Shower seats
- Long-handled scrub brushes
- Raised commodes with rails
Assistance with Vision
Approximately one in three senior adults develop some form of vision-reducing eye disease by age 65. It is not only frustrating for the senior but can contribute to depression and pose a potential safety hazard. Here are a few suggestions to help:
- Large-numeral clocks
- Night lights
- Colored tape to mark hot and cold faucets
Help with Medications
Memory loss, other cognitive challenges, and the sheer number of medications that seniors may have to manage can make taking medications risky. According to the National Academy of Medicine, 770,000 older adults end up in a hospital emergency department every year due to medication errors. AT options for managing medications include:
- Digital pill dispensers, such as MedMinder, which dispenses 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. 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” or “remember we’re coming to visit tomorrow,” or “I love you.”
Companionship and Safety
Devices that interact with seniors can lessen feelings of isolation and depression. They also provide reminders of what activities and tasks need to be completed, supply updates to caregivers, and provide physical assistance to seniors to help them move safely about the home.
Robot companions are on the market for senior adults. They can act as a calendar reminder, alarm clock, and connect to home security systems. There are robotic pets as well.
To view the activity levels of Mom or Dad, family members’ smartphones can be linked to a Fitbit worn by a parent. Webcams and computerized monitoring systems can help monitor a loved one.
Stairlifts can make multiple levels of the home accessible for people who no longer climb stairs.
Amazon Echo and other personal assistant devices can control lights and thermostats, remind seniors to take their medications, and call someone for help.
Voice- or eye-activated communications systems allow people with physical challenges to operate a computer or telephone.
In addition to conventional items like wheelchairs and electric scooters and lifts to transfer seniors to a vehicle, there are kneeler systems that lower the rear suspension of a van, which will decrease the incline of a wheelchair ramp or descend flush with the curb.
Would you believe that stoves are being developed that notify users if they have been left on for too long?
The technological advances are also following a personalization trend, focusing on learning 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.
Virtual Reality (VR) Goggles provide stimulating views of beautiful scenery—forests, mountains, streams, tourist attractions, or the block where the senior grew up.
A device called VitaBand is an emergency voice call-out and fall detection watch. Also, it provides more extensive monitoring, including tracking vital signs like heart and respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation, plus physical activity and sleep quality. The watch also provides medication reminders.
Advantages of Assistive Technology
The costs of these technologies and items can range from a few dollars to thousands. If you choose the technology carefully and thoughtfully, you can still save money by preventing potential accidents or injuries to your senior loved one, therefore reducing the need for family members or professionals to intervene in their lives. This translates to improved safety and a better quality of life for the senior while caregivers can rest comfortably in the knowledge that their loved one is safe and can be monitored remotely.
When considering what Assistive Technology to bring into the home, focus on the specific needs and capabilities of the senior. The latest and most expensive technology is not always the best. However, understand it may take time (and maybe a little bit of persuasion) for your loved one to accept and appreciate the benefits of AT.
Advancements in technology are moving faster than ever. We understand how important it is to keep up with new technology that can improve the quality of life for your senior loved ones. Check out our blog for more information about assistive technology and its uses in senior care.