Aging in the 21st Century: High Tech and the Human Touch
89% of Americans do not want to leave their homes when they age. Most of these people will live alone and receive support from health and community-based providers or family caregivers.How will the home care system provide care to a growing number of seniors living in increasingly scattered locations?
Technology has the potential to play a critical role in launching a new model of geriatric care that allows older people to live independently for as long as possible, supports family caregivers in the important work they do, and gives health care providers the tools they need to deliver high-quality care at a reasonable cost.
Some of the useful types of technologies available for eldercare services include:
- Home Monitoring Systems - connect monitoring devices with web interface including: emergency response, fall detection, passive motion monitoring (for persons with Dementia/wander risks), bed monitoring (for fall risks and incontinence).
- Tele-medicine Devices: Blood pressure, weight scale, pulse oximeter, all blue-tooth devices connected to a main platform that communicates information to the caregivers or medical centers.
- GPS Shoes: footwear designed with a built-in GPS device that could help track down "wandering" seniors suffering from Alzheimer's disease. This will provide the location of the individual wearing the shoes anywhere on the planet and provide a virtual fence around the elder, enabling them to walk to familiar places but alerting others if they veer off track.
- Medication Monitoring Systems that range from electronic pill boxes to the “smart” pill dispensers that work with sensors to alert them to missed dosages and give reminders of the appropriate time to take their medications.
- Walking aides like walkers that steer away from obstacles and can be retrieved by remote control. Canes that detect warning signs when a person is in danger of falling
- Intelligent phones helping people with memory problems to remember the name and relationship of the person calling
- Robotic nurses developed to help nurses, home health workers and caregivers lift people who cannot walk or help older folks with other activities. A prototype is developed by Vecna Technologies of College Park, MD, with funding from the U.S. military
More research needs to be done on the value of technologies for older adults. Designers should involve older adults and caregivers in product design.
Seniors Use Technology More Than You Know
A common belief is that seniors do not use gadgets or Internet, but research shows that older people are doing more online. The largest age group to increase their internet use in the past decade is the 70-79 year old group. As people are confined to their homes, they seek new ways to communicate.
Although technologies are badly needed, we also need to remember the human factor. People need to be involved with other people. Sometimes in the discussion of new high tech devices, the human side of high tech gets left out. Common sense and the human touch in caregiving can save lives and keep elders safe at home.
The mix of caring people, technology, and expertise in eldercare is the key to being able to keep people living and aging within their own homes regardless of whether they are healthy and engaged or dealing with chronic physical illness or dementia.