How technology is helping older people live safer, healthier lives
It’s such a cliché: grandpa fiddling with the buttons on the cellphone he barely knows how to use, grandma struggling to remember how to switch the computer on. But is it true that older people don’t like technology and don’t use it?
The reality, says expert Andrew Carle, is completely different from the perception. Carle, director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University and a consultant on aging issues, coined the term “Nana Technology” for innovations that not only help our aging population, but actually can save their lives.
Carle was in Minnesota in June to give a talk to Aging Services of Minnesota in Brooklyn Center on “Nana Technology: Is There A Robot In Your Future?” This is a summary of his presentation:
Why technology is important
In two words: Global aging, says Carle. The first of 78 million baby boomers turned 65 on January 1, 2011, and the population aged 85 and older is expected to more than triple from 5.7 million in 2010 to 19 million in 2050. And it’s not an American phenomenon; on the list of countries with the highest percentage of people over 60, the U.S. comes 43rd. The outcome, says Carle, is that global aging will affect us long before global warming. “Individuals who in 1968 thought they would change the world,” Carle says, “by 2028 actually will.” So how will we take care of all these seniors? The answer is: Technology.
Innovations being developed today allow seniors to remain independent in their homes without human assistance, or make human assistance more productive. They focus on categories of concern to seniors, caregivers and families, such as health and wellness, safety (falls), cognition (Alzheimer’s), vision and hearing, communication, mobility, lifestyle (cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc.). And advances in robotics and integrated systems mean there are technologies available that can self-complete tasks and/or deal with two or more of these categories in one system.
All of which sounds great, but will grandma and grandpa actually use them? Carle rebuffs the myth that old people don’t use technology. He cites the Roomba (the robot vacuum cleaner) and the Nintendo Wii (used for low impact fitness workouts and hobbies) as two examples of technology welcomed by the over-60s, and raves about Apple’s iPad, which “doesn’t require prior computer knowledge, and replaces paper, not a computer. There’s nothing to learn … it’s self-explanatory.”
Carle mentions the invention of the first wearable eyeglasses in 1284 as a (very) early example of a new technology that improved lives. “There were probably some who thought the idea of putting pieces of glass one inch from their eye was crazy,” says Carle, “until they put them on and found they could see. In reality, people will use ANY technology that improves the quality of life and is user-friendly.”
Carle highlights these useful and potentially life-saving technologies for seniors:
MedMinder (medminder.com): A “cellphone pillbox” that offers pre-filled insert trays of medications, and sends multiple messages and reminders by phone, text message, email, sound and more. There are an estimated 22,500 deaths per year due to medication mistakes.
SafeGuardian (medicalalarmsystems.com): A clip on and carry “safety cellphone” with a 24/7 urgent response button, “Onstar” concierge assistance and automatic falls detection. Falls are the number one cause of death due to injury in individuals 70 or older, but previous alert systems have used low-range radio frequencies, limiting the wearer to the home.
LinkedSenior (linkedsenior.com): A “brain system” that incorporates cognition training, plus programs for overall health, wellness, and social wellbeing. Mild cognitive impairment affects 12-20 percent of the over-70s, and Alzheimer’s disease affects nearly half of those over 85.
Navistar GPS footwear (navistartgpsshoe.com): Shoes that can track a person to within 30 feet, anywhere there is GPS or cellular reception, and send automatic alerts to family members or caregivers if a person wanders off. Up to 60 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers will become involved in a “critical wandering” incident — i.e., become lost — and nearly half of those may die if not found within 24 hours.
GrandCare Systems (grandcare.com): An integrated system that uses sensors around the home to monitor health and wellness, and establishes a baseline of normal activities. Reports emergencies, and allows communication with the senior via an open TV channel or available touch screen unit.
Tomorrow’s technologies include:
“Digital pills” that include a sensor the size of a grain of sand that wirelessly signals when medications have been swallowed, along with health monitoring data; approved by the FDA last year, due to hit the market in 2014.
Self-parking walkers operated by a remote control; voice recognition is in development.
“Smart Shoes” — sensor-based shoe inserts that in one study gave 73-year-olds the same balance as 23-year-old grad students.
Self-driving cars. The Society of Automotive Engineers predicts “fully autonomous” cars by 2025, just as the first Boomers reach 80.
Robot caregivers that can perform household tasks and lift up to 90 pounds.