Despite constant chatter on how technology is transforming millenials, the digital revolution does not discriminate based on age.
Smartphones and tablets are marketed to the young and the old, and social networks like Twitter are ripe with conversations on healthcare and retirement. In fact, one of the oldest Twitter users in the world passed away a few years ago at age 104, but not before amassing over 40,000 followers.
Just as the aging population is embracing new technology, corporations and tech start-ups are recognizing that senior citizens make up a booming, and crucial, customer segment. The competitive marketplace is doing an incredible amount to improve quality of life and increase life expectancy. And with the recent news that Google is “searching” for immortality, it’s certain that this will be a hot button issue for some time in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Below we take a look at technologies, big and small, that are ensuring that seniors age a little more gracefully and are, in many cases, saving lives.
Online Portals / Databases
There are countless examples of technologies that are leveraging “big data” on a small scale. Apps and websites now exist to monitor medication intake, track exercise and activity, store health records, and schedule hospital visits. They’re accessible to patients, caregivers and providers alike.
From simple LED motion lights, which are a huge asset in preventing trips in the middle of the night, to more complex systems, advancements in motion sensor technology are doing more than preventing break-ins. With the advanced tech, we’re also seeing smarter appliances. It all adds up to homes and communities that can be custom built for the elderly.
Example: QuietCare: a system of motion detectors that allow caregivers to remotely check on seniors and their environments. These devices can monitor the room temperature (especially during heat waves and cold fronts), determine how long someone has remained in one room, and more.
When it comes to smart appliances, there are tools like Flowban, which shuts off sinks and bathtubs before overflowing occurs; and Stove Guard International, which shuts off the stove when someone is absent from the kitchen for too long. These smart appliances are doing more than just saving energy.
Social Interaction Tools
One of the most common ailments experienced by the aging population is depression, often the result of isolation and loneliness. A crucial element for staying happy and healthy is fostering socialization. This can be challenging for seniors living in rural communities or the very ill. Technology that helps people0 maintain regular contact with the outside world can be medicine in itself.
Example: GrandCare Systems, like QuietCare, uses motion sensor technology to monitor activity, but it also has an attractive social component. An accompanying touch screen computer allows users access to social technology like Skype, Facebook and good, old fashioned family photos and family videos on YouTube. That makes for easy video chat with loved ones around the world, and makes it easy for one to indulge in nostalgia – great for memory retention and lifting spirits.
One of the most common problems for the elderly is memory loss and dementia. Leaving the house to simply get the mail can evolve into a dangerous episode, and a worrying burden for a caregiver. Fortunately, GPS technology now allows in expensive and precise trackers to be implemented into seniors’ lives. These trackers aren’t as invasive as they sound, and aren’t limited to those with dementia: A number of seniors willingly wear these trackers when they are prone to epileptic seizures or episodes of passing out from health problems like diabetes.
Example: Aetrex Navistar GPS Footwear System is a pair of shoes with GPS technology in the heel. Originally created to locate lost and kidnapped children, the product has been widely adopted by many seniors. One of the reasons it’s so successful is because GPS trackers in bracelets and ID necklaces are often left in bathrooms or bedroom dressers. But it’s rare that someone would leave the house without shoes.
We’re not in a place where robotic technology is having a scalable impact on care for the elderly. Robots are often fragile and always expensive. But just as the 3D printing industry has evolved from being incredibly niche to wholly accessible, many predict we’re not far off from the day that robots can act as caregivers.
Example: Giraff is a robot that uses a screen on wheels that is operated remotely by a healthcare professional to check-in on a patient. The technology allows seniors in live in their homes longer, preventing nursing home stays and hospital visits. It’s currently being piloted in Sweden. There are challenges in bringing the technology to market. It is expensive, the approval process requires extensive research, and putting the robots in the hands of professionals will require a lot of training. Still, the company argues that the cost-savings and quality of care will make it worthwhile.
The list above is a cross section of some of the new technologies that play a role in how we age. However, many experts and technology evangelists point out that as our lives grow increasingly automated, there will always be a need for human caregivers. No technology is perfect and the best way to ensure the safety and good health of a senior is through regular contact with a fellow human being.