It’s a cliché to imagine a senior looking to a grandchild for help with their new iPhone or TV. New technology is always presumed to be a baffling experience for older folks, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore.
A whole new tech sector has begun exploring ways to improve the lives of seniors with very little interference.
“In the last few years, there have been a number of advances in technology that have benefited older adults,” said Mark Tribbett, president and co-founder of Summit Senior Solutions. “Many of these are helpful in supporting the maintenance of good health and, in that vein, there are a number focused on improving independence in day-to-day life. For many older adults, maintaining independence is a vital element of their mental health and is significant in avoiding depression.”
Improving independence could mean anything from making it easier to do laundry or assisting in just getting around.
One area that has attracted a lot of attention is maintaining proper medical care in the home. For the co-founder and CEO of NVOLVE, Andy Bowline, that meant ensuring older relatives knew when to take required medicine.
A simple phone alarm just wasn’t going to cut it. It had to involve family members and creating a peace of mind so every phone conversation didn’t start with, “Did you take your meds today?”
“Children are taking on a more parental role,” Bowline said. “I look at it as almost an unnecessary thing and one that technology can assist. I can open up a phone and change the temperature. How can we develop a system to monitor the medication?”
For NVOLVE, that process starts with the monitor. With no buttons or lights, the monitor looks just like another place to put a regular pillbox. That familiarity, utilizing an already popular weekly and AM/PM style box, was important to Bowline.
“We settled on a very familiar design with some incremental improvements,” Bowline explained. “Wiped off all the buttons -- nothing they have to learn -- keep the routine as close to what they’re used to. The pinnacle of technology is it’s there, it’s helping you, but you don’t really know it’s there. It just fits into your life seamlessly.”
Paired with the base are Minders, a series of notifications that involves family to help remind seniors when to take medication. If you ignore your morning alert to take your pill, the Minder system will escalate the notification to designated family members or care receivers.
“We leave the patient in control as to who, if anybody, is going to be part of that circle,” Bowline said. “It was kind of a no-brainer they were going to be included.”
That family inclusion was key, as it helps create a peace of mind for everyone involved.
But older adults aren’t as tech adverse as the stereotype might suggest. As baby boomers age into the senior group, that group is becoming more and more tech savvy.
“That’s probably going to have a bigger impact than just having more smartphones available,” Bowline said. “The baby boomers, as they’re aging, their acceptance of tech in their everyday lives is at a much different level than seniors today.”
Technology continues to improve at a rapid pace, and new innovations designed for the general public could alter the way we age.
Driverless cars are in development at seemingly every major tech company out there. Should those cars become commercially viable, suddenly seniors that can’t drive on their own anymore won’t have to rely on friends or family for mobility outside of the home.
Medical technology could also benefit from something like virtual reality (VR). Not just in improving the direct care of patients, but with VR, caregivers could experience a whole new world of empathy.
“For example, caregivers can use VR to experience what it’s like to walk as a 90-year-old that recently broke their hip,” Tribbett said. “That higher level of understanding of the patient’s perspective will increase the healthcare providers’ quality of the clinical care of the patient, as well as strengthen their empathy for, and understanding of, the patient’s experience.”
The increased use of technology can benefit older adults in numerous ways, from helping maintain independence, assist in staying healthy, and to help humanize and personalize any necessary additional care.
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