Technology hasn’t managed to replace hugs and smiles–yet–but technology has made a huge difference in the lives of seniors, their families, and their caregivers.
Tech for Aging is Here–and More is Coming
With today’s technology, it is now possible to detect falls and summon immediate help, locate wandering seniors, remind both seniors and caregivers about medications and appointments, keep in touch with family and friends, track activity and sleep, even warn when someone forgets to turn off a stove or leaves a faucet running.
What’s available now is just a beginning and much will become obsolete quickly, bypassed by newer, more effective and/or less expensive technology. In the works is a device that will improve stride to help seniors exercise–essential to maintaining mobility–and the much publicized driverless car which will help able and mobile seniors retain their independence, and who knows what else.
Despite the explosion of assistive technology and devices, no one thinks technology, no matter how clever and useful, will ever replace family and friends when it comes to caring for seniors. (Or, more simply, no robotic hugs and smiles.) But technology is making life easier for the seniors who want to live independently as long as possible and assuring families and caregivers that seniors are safe and doing well.
Not all of this involves expensive or new high-tech devices. Some are simply senior sensible uses for established technology–such as motion activated lights–but some are (relatively) new, designed to keep seniors safe, alert, healthy and mobile so they can live independently, and at the same time assist and support their families and caregivers.
Given this broad context, the definition of technology is equally broad. It includes not just devices and gadgets, but software and related apps, computers, videos, tablets and cell phones, and many of the everyday electronic staples we no longer think of as new, or even as technology.
Indeed, the list of senior technological supports grows by the day as innovators, entrepreneurs, and even big-name marque firms like GE, Honda, and AT&T recognize the many needs of a burgeoning aging population and, to be honest, see tremendous potential profit to capture from this growing market.
Forces Driving Innovation in Aging and Technology
In a 2015 report, BCC Research predicts that the US market for both low end tech (eye glasses, large print books, etc.) and more sophisticated products (wireless monitors) will grow from 43.1 billion in 2015 to 58.3 billion by 2020. That projected growth, of course, depends upon technology being adapted and used and that, in turn, depends on unpredictable factors such as cost/affordability, and ease of use by both providers and seniors who are receiving care.
The inspiration for the new interest in technology aimed at older generations is what has been dubbed “the senior tsunami.” Census projections show that the over-65 population is expected to more than double between 2020 and 2050, with the 80-plus age group the fastest growing segment of the population.
That means surging numbers of people will need to cope with the inevitable consequences of aging, and a significant proportion will need some kind of assistance in order to “age in place” and live independently, and avoid assisted living and nursing homes if possible.
Those numbers also mean that more and more people will be involved in “caregiving,” not necessarily 24/7 hands on professional care, but concern and supervision for aging parents and relatives who may need help and support as they strive to “age in place.”
That translates into a huge market for technology aimed at helping those seniors and their caregivers. Broadly speaking, that technological help falls into several categories: technology aimed at safety for use by both seniors and caregivers; technology to support caregivers and families; and technology seniors can use to improve their own lives.
Keeping Up with New Technology
One of the biggest challenges for seniors and caregivers is trying to identify and then sort through all the technology, software, apps and everything else that’s available, and then decide which might be the most useful. Guidance and independent assessment is woefully lacking.
That seems to be a major shortcoming with the various medical alert systems that have been around the longest. In 2014, both the Senate Aging Committee and AARP warned about medical alert scams aimed at seniors. A year later, Aging in Place Technology expert Laurie Orlov reminded that medical alert scams persist, despite the Senate and AARP warnings, and that no up-to-date or independent reviews of this growing field exist.
In other words, “buyer beware” seems to be the best advice for this growing field, not just medical alert devices but the overwhelming amount of new technology aimed at seniors and caregivers. You might ask your friends, medical care team and any other objective, unbiased source you can think of for recommendations. Beyond that, you are on your own and need to do your own investigations. Remember, that buyer beware caution also applies to user reviews you find if you don’t know and can’t check with the source.
One way to identify technology that might be helpful is through an Internet search using topics such as senior care technology, health care technology, technology for caregivers, personal emergency response systems, monitoring for seniors, and variations on the terms. Here, too, remember that many of these sites are ads for a given product.
A number of websites seem to keep tabs on technology for seniors and their caregivers. Seniorcareadvice.com has no relationship with any of these sites or groups and does not endorse their content or products.
The list that follows is provided, with no guarantees, to assist your search for products and technology that might make senior care more effective. Admittedly, it is incomplete and may already be out of date. Sites are listed in no particular order:
Aging in Place Technology Watch (which has a regular technology watch feature)
Center for Technology and Aging
A Place for Mom
Assistive Technology Services