Emerging technologies have the potential to radically change the experience of aging in the 21st century. Technology can help seniors stay in their homes longer by improving safety, monitoring medical details and enhancing communication and social contact.
Over one-half million people in the U.S. subscribe to alarm services that send a wireless message that help is needed. The user wears a pendant or bracelet and simply presses a button for help. Unlike a telephone or alarm pull chain, the pendant or bracelet is always accessible and is directly connected to help that is always available.
Adaptive telephone designs are extremely beneficial to seniors. A number of states, Florida among them, offer deaf and hearing-impaired residents captioned and volume-control telephones at no cost. Cell phones designed for seniors have larger buttons and better amplification and sound quality. Innovative cell phones have zoom options that make the display text larger as well as built-in SOS buttons; menus are simple and easy to navigate. Phones for people with memory problems use the caller identification feature to display a photo of the caller as well as the caller’s name and relationship to the senior, in order to jog a failing memory.
Signalers produce a visual signal for sounds like the doorbell, oven timer, or alarm clock. A similar device sends an audio and visual signal when the mail is delivered. Amplified alarm clocks help people with moderate hearing loss wake up on time, a particularly useful feature for seniors who have to take medications during the night. For people with more profound hearing loss, bed shakers do the waking.
Telehealth is the term coined for health services that are delivered though the Internet and other telecommunications technologies. Telehealth can be as simple as e-mail communication between doctors and patients or as complex as patient monitoring. Devices already exist that allow doctors to monitor seniors remotely. Smart beds, for example, monitor vital signs and send them to the medical care providers over the Internet. For general safety, electronic systems monitor the movements of seniors in their homes. Robotic nurses may soon spare the backs of caregivers by doing the lifting and transferring. Pill boxes that remind people when to take their pills and other electronic medication monitoring and dispensing systems are now available and continually improving.
Recent studies confirm that Internet use reduces depression among senior citizens. A number of programs use Internet technology to reduce the social isolation of home bound seniors. A public-private partnership in New York City, for example, introduces seniors to computers and Internet technology in their own homes. The Virtual Senior Center uses technology to improve social connections and give home bound seniors access to community services. In another project, a technology hot line helps seniors learn how to use the Internet. Keyboards with large keys and magnified monitors make it easier for older people to use computers.
Remote controlled walkers come when they are called, eliminating the need for seniors to reach for their walkers, a major cause of falls. Walkers with sensors are able to steer away from obstacles. Smart canes can detect changes in gait and pressure and sound an alarm if the user is in danger of falling.
Technologies for Independence
A number of universities and companies have taken up the challenge of developing technologies to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens. Their innovations can help seniors remain independent longer and age gracefully.
The emerging technologies detailed in this article can enhance the lives of seniors and other home bound individuals in need of assistance. By improving home safety and monitoring important medial information and enhancing communication and social interaction, aging seniors will be able to stay in their homes longer.