Computers and technology are embedded in our culture. Science and research, plus improvements in health and medicine—and the Baby Boomer cohort—have led to a growing population of seniors. By 2050, 20 percent of the world population will be 60 or older. Already, this is the largest user group within public health and care. Remember that old adage: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The general perception (read: stereotype) is that seniors are too old for technology. However, data shows that technology has advanced to be both relevant and adaptable to seniors. Technology impacts the aging. It leads the way to deliver new and more effective ways to monitor health, assure independence, and optimize living environments.
Technology Helps Monitor Health at Home
Our society has growing access to medical information and records online. Physicians turn to patient portals (easy-to-use, secure websites) at an extraordinary rate. To seniors, portals are not as scary as they sound. They’re not the time transport(als) seen in movies. And they don’t require the tech-literacy of an astrophysicist. They are simply an alternative way to access medical files and interact with the medical community.
Often, access to patient portals increases engagement and improves health outcomes. Communication with care providers is increased. Patients take a much more active role in their healthcare. This benefits seniors with limited mobility and/or lack of transportation. Prescription refills, appointment requests, and quick access to one’s health records can be handled remotely…. With just the click of a button. Plus, loved-ones/caregivers may have access to these portals, allowing them to manage things from afar.
“Smart” Technology and Maintaining Independence
Just how “smart” are you? “Smart” seniors tend to remain more independent. Smart technology runs the gamut of possibility from Life Alert® (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”) and home security (ADT®) to smartphones and sophisticated home automation systems.
A smart device is simply a network-connected product with the ability to manage or automate tasks. As people age, their cognitive, physical, and sensory abilities change. With the booming elderly population, manufacturers introduce more and more smart devices specifically with this demographic in mind. For example, smart devices alert independent seniors to potentially dangerous situations in the home. More than just smoke detectors, alarms detect fire hazards, water leaks, and air quality issues.
Smart medication reminders provide peace of mind. Motion-activated lights prevent fumbling around in the dark. Motion-sensitive devices at an entryway provide door lock reminders. Smart home security systems automatically lock doors or alert family and caregivers remotely.
For those with mobility issues, assistive voice-control devices adjust the thermostat or alert emergency services. Devices are equipped with large, high-visibility displays. They are easy to see and manipulate with stiff fingers. The list goes on and on…. Technology is “smarter” about helping people remain independent throughout their Golden Years.
The Technological Nest
Ultimately, advances in technology allow more people to age in place. Older adults strive to maintain their independence and autonomy in a safe living environment. “Home” to many in the 60+ age demographic takes on great personal meaning and pride. Studies have shown that remaining in their home decreases hospital visits and readmission rates. Technology provides cognitive assistance (alarms, reminders), health monitoring (patient portals and remote health monitoring), and social communication (email, emergency connects, and smartphones) to optimize the living environment. To live independently—to delay or avoid moving—is maximized by technology.
Technology is maturing to make lives better for the aging population, but it also introduces new challenges. Sometimes the elderly feel separated by technology. In fact, current technology works to link them in. Aunt Betty with her iPhone sends and receive texts with her nieces and nephews regularly. They’re even teaching her about emojis! Granddad has forsaken his Clapper® and now controls his lights, thermostat, and TV with a new, more reliable voice-recognition system. When anxiety about new technology is reduced — through education, patience, and accommodations — it benefits senior living and quality of life. Now, more than ever, advances in technology compensate for age and age-related declines in health and functioning. Technology improves the lives of the aging, by adding accommodations to make the Golden Years shine.