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How Technology is Extending Life at Home For Older Adults

Our thanks to Karen Smith for this contribution to our blog

Bio: Karen Smith has been working for MePACS as the Head of Sales and Marketing for the last four years and has over 20 years experience in health, technology, digital and finance industries.

No one enjoys getting old, but unfortunately it happens to all of us eventually. More older adults are choosing to age at home, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The countless virus outbreaks in aged care homes have made people wary about putting their aging relatives into these facilities. In Australia, a survey that was conducted this year found that only 15% of Australians between the ages of 60 and 80 trusted the aged-care industry.

While older adults are happier living at home, this comes with its own challenges as families can be concerned about their elderly relative’s safety. In the US, 27% of people aged 60 and over live alone and more prosperous countries tend to have smaller households. Technology is able to support independent living for older adults by keeping them safe, helping them with daily tasks and staying in touch with others.

As we age we tend to go out less and it’s estimated that older adults spend 80-90% of time at home. This means that the chances of having an accident are much more likely to occur around the home which is why many older adults are starting to embrace smart technology that is helping to keep them safe.

The global population is aging

By the year 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65 according to the United Nations. Advances in healthcare and technology are also allowing people to live longer, which will put increased strain on hospitals and aged care homes. We need home healthcare technology to meet the demands of our global aging population.  

Unfortunately, getting old comes with a higher chance of health problems. Some common conditions that happen with old age include:

–   Hearing loss

–   Cataracts

–   Diabetes

–   Dementia

–   Heart disease

–   Back and neck pain

It’s not uncommon for a person to experience many conditions at the same time. People who are overweight, have an unhealthy diet or don’t do exercise can also be more likely to develop health conditions later in life.

We now have smart technology that can monitor heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels without even needing to see a doctor. It’s important to note that technology isn’t a replacement for seeing a healthcare professional, but rather a way of collecting and tracking personal data so you can make an appointment to see someone if something is wrong.

Devices that help older adults stay safe

While there are many devices available on the market that are helping older adults to age at home, here are a few that deal with key issues affecting people in the older age bracket.

Smart kitchen appliances

Kitchens can be a dangerous place for older people, which can be due to:

–   Forgetting to turn off a tap or switch off an appliance which could lead to water overflowing or starting a fire  

–   Falling over with a hot object due to lack of balance

–   Forgetting how to use something in the kitchen due to a medical condition

If you’re looking to make your kitchen or a family member’s kitchen safer, there are smart stoves and ovens that can automatically shut off if they detect smoke. There are some devices that can also detect motion in the kitchen, so if someone were to walk away and leave the stove unattended, it would automatically switch off.

There are also a number of other devices that can make the kitchen a safer place including smart refrigerators that monitor food consumption and can alert you when supplies get low.

Smartwatches with fall detection

While medical alerts for fall detection are nothing new, a stylish smartwatch with automatic fall detection is much less bulky. The added bonus is that the wearer has all the benefits of owning a smartwatch including telling the time, in-built GPS and fitness tracking that can motivate them to do daily exercise.

Falls are the most common injury in older adults and they can have devastating consequences. Not only can they cause hip fractures or broken bones, but they can cause a person to lose confidence in their own ability. If the person is unable to move and lives alone, help is difficult to get which is why a fall-detection smartwatch can be a life-saving device.

Medication reminders

Many older people can be on several types of medication. Forgetting to take medication or doubling up on doses can have serious consequences, which is why technology can help to alleviate this problem.

Smart speakers that include a voice-activated virtual assistant can be set-up to remind the person to take their medication. There are also smart sensors that can be placed around the home that use artificial intelligence to learn the movements of a person and can alert them if they forget to take their medication or remind them that they have already taken it.

For those that are more forgetful, there are automatic pill dispensers that can be filled up by a caregiver or a family member so that the person cannot access the pills unless they come out of the dispenser.

Data privacy concerns

Any device that collects its own data and can communicate via a network is part of the ever-growing gadgets known as the Internet of Things (IoT). When it comes to collecting health data, this raises concerns about regulation and who has access to this data.

For example, an older adult with health conditions might be happy to share their personal data with their doctor but wouldn’t want that same data being shared with a third-party.

While virtual assistants and home sensors are improving the lives of older adults wishing to live at home, there is growing concern about what companies are doing with all that data.

As our society comes to rely more and more on technology to make our lives easier, the industry needs to design tough privacy regulations to keep vulnerable adults safe.  

10 Innovative Apps for Seniors

Our thanks to Artur Meyster for this contribution to our blog. 

Smartphones each year are farther away from being a cellphone and closer to being a mobile supercomputer. Therefore, it is undoubted that they play an essential role in our daily lives. The rapid advancements of technology have allowed developers to create apps that can make our lives easier—especially for seniors. Whether or not you are a fan of tech, below are some innovative apps that might come in handy and bring about positive impacts in your life.

1. FallSafety

The app offers help when you need it the most. With its intelligent fall detection feature, FallSafety can detect when a user experiences a fall and will automatically send an alert to an emergency contact or healthcare organization. The app takes a few seconds after the fall to send the alert, in case it’s a false alarm. The app is available for Android, iOS, and Apple Watch users.

2. Red Panic Button 

This app is for everyone to use in emergencies. If you find yourself in a threatening situation or if you worry about your safety, you can whip out this app and press the red button that will immediately send a text message and an email containing your GPS coordinates to your emergency contacts. This app is especially great for seniors who have problems with mobility as it will ensure they get the right help at the right time, with just a push of a button.

3. Lumosity

Lumosity is a brain-training app that can help improve a user’s memory and focus. While we could all use a little brain teaser every now and then, seniors especially can benefit tremendously by using Lumosity as it keeps the mind active in a fun way. The app offers various interactive features to sharpen your problem-solving skills and math abilities, among others.

4. Seniors Phone

At the rate of which technology is advancing, it is understandable how some seniors might find it overwhelming. That is, however, a problem of the past. Seniors Phone is an app that changes the user interface of any smartphone to a simplified version. You can customize everything—from the size of the fonts to the buttons—to make it easier for a user to navigate the smartphone. Some other features include bright-colored widgets for better identification and an SOS button which can send a distress signal to an emergency contact. 

5. VizWiz

Many seniors have deteriorated vision which can make daily activities a real challenge. Enter the VizWiz app, which allows a user to take a photo of their surrounding and receive the corresponding descriptions. According to its developer, the app combines automatic image processing, anonymous web workers, and members of the user’s social network in order to collect fast and accurate answers to their questions.

6. EyeReader

This is another app that is meant to help individuals with visual impairments. The app is essentially a unique reading magnifier that can help many who find it difficult to read the smaller print. As we age, our visions will likely deteriorate, therefore this app can prove to be really helpful for seniors to perform daily tasks that involve reading.

7. MedMinder

MedMinder is not only an app, but it is also hooked to an automated pill dispenser. This innovative device helps seniors to stay independent by alerting them about the right time to take their medications. Its safety features ensure that pill mix-ups are a thing of the past. The dispenser will be locked at all times unless it’s time to take a pill. First, the compartment will flash, then the device will make a beeping noise before sending an alert via the mobile app. If the patient fails to take the pill at the right time, the app will notify all caregivers. 

8. LibriVox

We all love a good story but what happens when your vision starts to deteriorate and reading becomes more of a hassle than a hobby? Opt for audiobooks. LibriVox offers an extensive list of audiobooks that are recorded by volunteers, available on the free public domain for anyone and everyone interested. Users can either choose to listen to the audiobooks online or download them for later. 

9. Yesterday USA

For those who are feeling nostalgic about the old times, Yesterday USA is the perfect app for them. The app is an internet radio station that broadcasts old radio shows from the 1920s to the 1970s. Now in its 31st year, the best part about Yesterday USA is you can tune in any time of the day as it operates 24 hours. 

10. Medisafe 

Medisfe is an app that works with Machine Learning and AI. The app is for seniors to keep track of all their medications. It gives reminders of when to take each pill and also alerts users when the prescription is running low. Medisafe also lets users enter their caregivers’ information, allowing the app to send alerts if the users forgot to take a pill.

Hacking Longevity Market Trends & Consumer Preference

Article Originally Published in Aging Today Newspaper of ASA.org

September-October 2019, Vol xl No. 5

There now is heightened interest in serving the longevity market, as evidenced in The Business of Aging’s 2018 study, Hacking Longevity: A Three Generation Look at Living a 100 Year Life (tinyurl.com/yxdsle49), which painted a landscape of opportunity for companies that can speak authentically to older con­sumers, and help them navigate later life.

 Many companies have built products for different generations of older consumers.

Though the needs of and opportunities to serve this consumer cohort are recog­nized and well-researched, some compa­nies steadfastly chase the youth market, assuming more money and opportunity lie there. Also, new companies and tech­nologies tend to target wealthier older consumers—those who can pay regardless of insurance reimbursement. Companies’ offerings could (and should) have more wide-ranging social impact and greater results with low-income adults, particu­larly those of more diverse backgrounds who may be managing multiple chronic conditions, who are more at risk for social isolation and who may not have technolo­gy to assist in their care. Nonprofit organizations can partici­pate in these marketing opportunities by educating young companies about the re­alities of older adults’ lives, and by work­ing with for-profit companies to provide distribution and pilot programs, bringing new products and services to more vul­nerable older consumers. Many companies claiming to target older adults have built and marketed products to at least two different genera­tions of older consumers and-or caregiv­ers, likely the Greatest and Baby Boom generations. But members of these co­horts differ in how they age—and in how they perceive their aging. Thus, it is criti­cal that companies access key consumer insights, especially because people, as they age, can’t always relate to the brands they once valued, thinking that these brands no longer speak to their needs.

Market Opportunities and Trends Solutions for the Greatest Generation were designed for a “birds of a feather flock to­gether” mindset—think suburban living and resort-style senior living—whereas baby boomers require curation: they value individuality and specialized approaches.

The personal health and fitness con­sumer category is growing. While older generations prefer group programming, the newer generations of older adults pre­fer personal trainers, individualized meal programs and customized vitamin and supplement regimes. With high rates of obesity and diabetes, companies in this space are poised for growth.

Experiences are king. The Baby Boom Generation ushered in the “age of experi­ences,” and technology has enhanced this trend’s growth. Sometimes the language of experience is “memory-making,” espe­cially when it involves a family’s multiple generations. From adventure travel to food and wine to family vacations, older adults prefer to share experiences instead of gifting “things.” They also share these experiences via social platforms or within family circles. This sharing impetus ex­tends to exploring family history and heri­tage, hence the growth of genealogy sites and DNA testing.

A preference for “little luxuries.” The new older adult appreciates not just peak experiences, but also top products— luxuries that span from gourmet ice cream to home wine cellars to designer bifocals to a meal in a celebrity chef’s restaurant. In­herent in all things experiential is sharing the experience on social media.

Home maintenance has created an in­dustry of gig workers who provide services older adults are unwilling to do or can’t do. Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor and TaskRabbit all cater to this market. The segment of this home services economy ripe for innovation is the home organization–de-cluttering business. Organizations do exist, e.g., the National Association of Senior Move Man­agers, but this is a fragmented industry. Young families don’t want their parents’ furniture, collectibles and memorabilia. And, as older adults downsize and want to get rid of possessions, there is enormous (and growing) market opportunity.

Home is the center of care. As the ma­jority of older adults plans to age in their homes, professional homecare providers seek innovative ways to deliver care and services supporting the daily activities of older adults and their family caregivers. Applications for voice-activated devices (e.g., Amazon Echo and Google Home) that enable aging in the home are increas­ingly popular, as are services such as gro­cery delivery, medication reminders, care support and rides.

Products that have been used in the home for years are being re-engineered for aging at home. Consumers and care­givers are thinking about toileting and cleaning, maintaining odor control and keeping the home clean and infection-free. Expect robotics to assist with mun­dane in-home tasks.

Pet ownership is on the rise. The Baby Boom Generation has the highest divorce rates and the most aging singles. Pet owner­ship, as a means to avoid social isolation and loneliness, is more prevalent in this cohort. This indicates soaring sales of high-end pet food, pet insurance and accessories. This market also has created a service economy around in-home grooming, dog walking and sitting, veterinary services and more.

Financial services. The 2018 Hacking Longevity study revealed elders’ lack of understanding of financial products for retirement saving and, like other studies, showed that the Baby Boom Generation is understandably stressed about having enough money as they age. There is inno­vation around annuities and reverse mortgages, but these products have re­ceived mixed reviews, so selling any new versions is difficult. Consumers need more education to understand these prod­ucts’ uses and value.

The cannabis market has a Wild West feel to it.

Cannabis and CBD for pain manage­ment. The biggest category of consumer interest over the past two years is canna­bis and CBD. As states legalize medical and recreational cannabis, older adults are embracing it for pain management, help with sleeping and more. CBD prod­ucts have flooded the market with little evidence of efficacy for all of the claims made. This category has a Wild West feel to it, as start-ups appear daily; there is no clear market leader, but revenue projected by 2022 stands at $32 billion.

Companies in these trending catego­ries seek partners, just as they do inves­tors. While it can take for-profit and non­profit businesses time, imagination and key consumer research to create valuable partnerships, consumers benefit most from a careful development process. n

Lori Bitter is a marketing, research and development consultant, speaker and au­thor in the Bay Area, and author of The Grandparent Economy: How Baby Boom­ers Are Bridging the Generation Gap (Ithaca, NY: Paramount; 2015).

Lori speaks at Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit, June 25th 2014

On June 24th, Lori Bitter will moderate a bootcamp session on “Driving Leads and Sales in the Longevity Economy” featuring panelists from Zillner The Senior Agency and Digital Niche. Learn More →