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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.  

What do you think?