How Technology is Assisting Seniors to ‘Age in Place’
Assistive Technology, Built Environment, ICT, Universal Design, October 1 2018
INTERNATIONAL: The latest statistics show that people are living longer in virtually every country in the world, with the over 60 age group growing faster than any other cohort. The aging global population is altering many aspects of society, none more so than housing. When quizzed about their preferred living arrangements, the overwhelming majority of over 60’s (up to 90%) stated that they’d prefer to stay in their own home as they grow older – known as ‘Aging in Place’. Yet the challenges brought on by deterioration in mental and physical health as we age, often make this difficult. One way that aging in place is being facilitated is through advances in home technology. We explore the prototypes and emerging technologies that are helping seniors to stay at home for longer.
Monitoring and Reminder Technology
Being less able to get around, or even housebound, can not only be a health concern for the families of senior citizens. It’s also a major incident worry, especially when forgetfulness begins to creep in. There are lots of ways to assist aging in place already available, but exciting developments in the field of monitoring behavior and prompting responses are currently being tested. Prototypes of assistive technologies that learn and analyze behaviors include a stove that will remind the user if it has been left on and unattended, and gait sensor analysis that can detect changes in the way a person walks, flagging up potential health problems to an external source. Where this is currently not mainstream, there are already forms of this technology on the market. For instance, smart phones can be linked up to fitness devices or exercise trackers. These monitor heart rate and step count and can alert a family member of long periods of inactivity even when they’re miles away.
Making Impossible Tasks Possible
Smart technology is not just about connectivity. There are some ‘intelligent’ gadgets that can assist elderly people to perform tasks they may no longer be able to do for themselves. Smart vacuum cleaners can now be linked up to smart speakers and operated via voice control. Another example of innovation in this field is ‘stabilizing’ cutlery that can counteract the involuntary muscle tremors experienced in old age as a result of deterioration in muscle or degenerative diseases.
Answering the doorbell to strangers can be challenging for older people for a number of reasons. Firstly, for those with mobility problems – getting to the door can be a struggle. It’s also intimidating for those who live alone if the caller is unknown or has ulterior motives. Smart security systems have motion sensors and even speakers to allow two-way conversations with a person attempting to gain access to a property. This allows the homeowner or perhaps even better, a relative via smart phone, to vet callers BEFORE the door is opened. It also saves a wasted journey to the door – not an easy task for somebody struggling on their feet.
An ageing population is presenting unique issues for governments across the globe. But as society grows older, it’s hopeful that advancing technology can counter some of the problems that arise when elderly people live alone; ultimately helping seniors to fulfill their wish of living in their own homes.
Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.