Using technology to assist seniors aging in place

Published 5:24pm Monday, November 7, 2011

You can’t help but notice that technology has come a long way with providing better means of connecting millions of people on a daily basis.

Today, there are some incredible technological advances for our homes, and in particular for seniors, that may allow many of them not only to stay in their own homes but to have the benefit of technology looking after many of their basic concerns.

As an attendee at the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, I recall walking through the technology fair that showcased universities and corporations displaying home-based products and concepts designed to allow our aging population to safely remain in their homes longer.

This is part of what is called “aging in place.” This makes sense for those who are still able to safely continue to live on their own, perhaps with just a few upgrades in care and oversight.

Aging in place offers an alternative to being moved into the home of an adult child or relocated to more costly assisted living or long-term skilled nursing facilities.

Today there are some clever technologies available, like hot water sensors that can prevent water temperatures getting so hot as to cause a severe burn. There are timing sensors for running water that will automatically shut off the water to a sink, tub or shower after a certain period of time.

Some of the more sophisticated electric monitoring tools being tested include:

Bed sensors that assess breathing patterns, heart rate and sleep quality

Monitors that detect when an individual leaves the house or opens the refrigerator

Motion sensors installed along hallways and ceilings to record gait and walking speed

Pill boxes that record when medications are dispensed

Wii video game platforms reconfigured to measure weight and balance

While all of this sounds wonderful, and is either already available or just around the corner, there are, as you can guess, some drawbacks to being among the early adopters of the newest technology.

Cost is a big factor, as many of these technologies are expensive to buy and to monitor. Families may not be willing or able to spend the money to acquire these technologies.

Additionally, some of the technologies may still require some participation by the senior to work. Automatic notification systems that alert and dispense the correct medications for a person do not assure you that those medicines were actually taken.

The availability of two-way computer video communications such as Skype is a great tool for families, but still requires a minimal amount of participatory skill and knowledge by the users on both ends of the transmission.

We, as a society, are getting older, living longer, developing and relying more and more on science and technology for assistance and support. And all of that can be wonderful, particularly if it helps keep some of us at home longer while providing increased safety and improving our quality of life.

While personal involvement cannot be replaced by technology, it sure makes you wonder about the future of aging, particularly when the person that’s aging is you.

Ron Kauffman is a geriatric consultant and planner in private practice in Henderson and Polk Counties. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available at the Polk County Senior Center. His podcasts can be heard weekly at www.seniorlifestyles.net. You can reach him at his office at 828-626-9799, on his cell at 561-818-0039 or by email at drron561@gmail.com.

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