By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner
No doubt about it, we are living in the Digital Age. Innovations abound all around us and keeping up with the pace of technology can be dizzying. As a senior, you may ask yourself, ‘do I really need to keep up with technology or can I rely on what I already know?’
Research and development for technologies that are aimed specifically at the senior market are expected to be a $10 billion industry by 2020. This means that seniors have an incredible opportunity to benefit from technological advances. Innovations are dramatically transforming the experience of getting older, allowing seniors to not just age in place but to do so with a degree of empowerment and independence that no other generation has experienced. The newest technologies are not just ‘cool’ and they are more than convenient. For today’s seniors, technology has the potential to be life-changing to the degree that the very experience of being a senior is being redefined forever.
So, why is technology innovation focused on the senior community? It’s all about demographics and the rising cost of healthcare. There are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history. In 2015, almost 48 million seniors lived in the U.S and that number will grow to 56 million in the next decade. While improvements public health, nutrition and medicine contribute to this growth, senior healthcare costs represent a significantly higher share compared to other age groups. Plus, the working age population is in decline and it is predicted that one-third of all doctors in the U.S. will retire in the next decade, meaning that there will be fewer people to support the elderly financially and professionally. This calls for change in how the elderly are cared for and this is exactly where technology and the Internet of Things comes in.
Internet of things (IoT): the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.
IoT describes “smart” devices that connect in the digital landscape and help monitor, alert, track and support seniors. The idea behind the innovation is that these devices will keep seniors connected and safe — and help alleviate some the stress on the professionals and caregivers supporting them.
Groceries: Ordering food and other essentials is already much easier for those with mobility issues thanks to a variety on online ordering services. Future tech enhancements might include a refrigerator or pantry monitor that automatically orders products to be delivered when they are close to running out.
Home Security: IoT security devices like live-streaming cameras and smart locks that can all be controlled from a tablet or smartphone, or remotely by a caregiver, can make living alone less intimidating for seniors who feel vulnerable due to their health or physical limitations.
Medicine Management Tools: Moving past pill cases organized for each day of the week and by time of day are apps to help with planning and to issue reminders about which medications need to taken and when, even alerting seniors and caregivers when medicines are not taken.
Fall Monitors: The most common causes of injury in people over 65 is falling and new technologies like wearable bracelets with built-in accelerometers sound an alarm or place a call to emergency services in the event of a fall.
Wearable and Implant Technology: A variety of medical sensors can track vital signs and send communications in real time. While the shared data can save a life in the event of a life-threatening medical development, it can also track movement and sleeping habits, allowing caregivers to track behavior patterns and be in tune to when a patient or loved one should be checked on.
Portable Technology: The size of machines that perform routine blood and urine tests has gotten so small that these machines can be kept at home, meaning that seniors can stay home for regular check-ups, while IoT sends the data to healthcare professionals.
Caregiver and Emergency Responder Remote Monitoring Tools: Thanks to IoT, family members and emergency responders can monitor seniors remotely. Technologies can alert caregivers each time a connected device is turned on or off, like a coffee machine or oven. This way caregivers can detect deviations in routine and can reach out as needed. Emergency responders can offer navigational assistance and can respond if someone has moved outside of their specified or protected living area. Developing technologies feature sensors within the home that connect to a cloud-based algorithm that learns the daily living patterns of the senior — like location within the home, light sources being used, bed time and awakening time. television watching, cooking, bathroom usage, leaving the home and returning and heating or air conditioning temperature and adjustments — and recognizes deviations to share with caregivers.
Smart Homes and Communities: IoT technologies can also be utilized within homes and senior communities to help caregivers provide proactive and better care to seniors, less invasively and with reduced medical costs.
No doubt, it’s a great time to be a senior. The Internet of Things will humanize the experience of aging by creating a more patient-centered and personal approach for care. At the touch of a button healthcare professionals and caregivers will be able to:
• Access a real-time analysis of a patient’s vitals, specific to the patient and their condition
• Prevent a fall or medication error
• Share information and interact with everyone in a patient’s circle of care
• Respond to a patient’s needs based on vitals
As we forge ahead into this new world, some caution prevails. New technologies must be affordable, easy to use and need to provide adequate privacy and security. With that in hand, the quality of life for seniors — who can look forward to staying in their homes longer, living independently and feeling safer because they are being watched over — is looking bright.
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