Using Technology to Help Seniors Age in Place
Learn about gadgets and gizmos that can support seniors at home and provide peace of mind to loved ones and caregivers.
Though seniors are becoming more technology savvy all the time, many are still skeptical about the latest devices. But when someone wants to age in place instead of leaving their home, technology can be a lifesaver.
"It can allow an aging loved one to remain safe in their home, while also providing needed supports and offering the family peace of mind," says Jill Martinelli, senior care advisor at Care.com.
No matter whether you're the child of an aging parent or the caregiver, you can help determine if these technological gadgets could help keep a senior safe -- and identify the best options for them. Ask a primary care physician for suggestions on the areas where they think your aging loved one may need help now and in the future.
"I love new technology, but only if it brings value to my life," says Dr. Jill Bjerke, a certified aging in place specialist. "That's why I ask anyone I speak to about aging in place technology to consider whether the tools and gadgets will help them maintain health, safety and independence at home."
Laurie Orlov, an aging in place technology expert, believes that in order to age in place successfully, a senior has to be able to engage with others, remain healthy and stay safe. "If you skip any of these, you run the risk of depression, isolation and poor health," says Orlov.
Here are technology options and products that Orlov recommends to help a senior age in place.
And read up on "Introducing Seniors to Aging in Place Technology."
Engage With Others
Technology offers seniors limitless opportunities to connect with friends and family for long conversations or quick updates -- necessary as some seniors suffer from isolation and depression. Costs differ depending on contracts and data packages, but there's something in everyone's price range.
- Simplified Computers: Look for easy-to-use computers and touch-screen capabilities. Try: Telikin's line of products.
- Computer-Free Emails: Explore options that allow users to receive emails and photos without a computer. Try: Presto Email Machine.
- No-Contract Cell Phones: If a senior only has a cell phone in case of emergencies, a no-contract one might be best. Try: Jitterbug Plus or TracFone.
- Amplified Cell Phones: These are great for seniors with hearing impairments or who have trouble seeing small screens. Try: ClarityLife C900 or Hamilton CapTel (also available as an app).
- Video Chats: For more tech-savvy seniors, suggest programs that allow you to easily see and speak with others. Try: Skype or FaceTime.
Maintain Health and Wellness
Medication management and mobility are two major components of preserving physical health at home. Telehealth is a rapidly evolving industry that helps individuals with chronic illness manage their disease from home and connect with health care professionals. And there are options for everyone.
- Medication Reminders: Explore medication management systems that can issue reminders, dispense meds, monitor medication usage and notify caregivers when doses are missed. Try: TabSafe.
- Pill Dispensers: Instead of an entire system, look into automated pill dispensers that remind uses when to take a dose and what amount to take. Try: e-pill, Philips Medication Dispensing Service or MedMinder.
- Health Management: Monitor blood pressure, pulse and heartbeat, check your blood glucose levels and more...in your pajamas. Some telehealth systems give you the power to do it all, so you (rarely) have to make a doctor's appointment for these routine checks. Try: Philips Telehealth Solutions.
- Nutrition Guides: Seniors -- especially those who live alone -- often have problems planning meals and getting the nutrition they need. Use technology to keep track of what they should be eating and when. Try: Simple Meal Reminder (for Android) or FoodRemindr (for Apple).
- Fitness Tools: The Wii isn't just for kids and teens. It's perfect for the 65+ set. Even senior living communities across the country have them, and participate in tournaments and national competitions. (Consult with a doctor before starting new fitness activities.) Try: Wii Fit Plus.
- Brain Games: Just like the rest of the population, seniors need to keep their brains healthy. Encourage them to play games like Sudoku or crosswords or invest in more advanced programs. Try: Brain Fitness Program.
As bodies and minds age, individuals may experience new mental and physical challenges. It's more common for seniors to fall or wander off. Look into technologies that can help keep seniors safe when they live at home.
- Home Monitoring Systems: These systems operate on strategically-placed sensors, from motion detectors to leak or flood detectors to item-specific detectors on doors, beds, toilets, chairs, etc. You can monitor your loved one's daily activities, and more importantly, receive notifications when the system senses a disruption. Some even include engagement and communications features, like text message, email, or phone reminders and alerts that allow you to check in and communicate from wherever you both are. Try: Quiet Care, GrandCareSystems or BeClose.
- Traditional PERS: Personal emergency response systems (more commonly known as the "I've fallen and I can't get up" button) send alarms notifying caregivers about a fall, health emergency, home invasion, fire or even egress/exits due to wandering. Most will also send help immediately, even if the individual can't communicate a need for assistance. There are standard one-button versions and ones with automatic fall detection capabilities. Try: Lifeline or LifeStation.
- Mobile PERS: Have peace of mind on the go with these models that you can take with you. Try: Mobile Help or the GreatCall 5Star Responder Service.
- GPS Tracking Systems: These can alert the authorities and help locate a missing person quickly. Most of these systems operate by signal exchanges from satellites and nearby cell towers when the person is traveling or wandering. The program then measures the distance between the device itself and the cell towers and satellite signals, pinpointing the individual's location and communicating this information back to the system. Try: LifePROTEKT or Comfort Zone.
Talk with your loved one about these options, but don't be surprised if the individual is initially hesitant, as unfamiliar technology may feel invasive. Take the time to explain how each choice can allow your loved one to stay safe and ultimately support their desire to remain at home as they age and provide relief for aging seniors and their family members.
A freelance writer, editor and elder care specialist, Michelle Seitzer has written for AARP, Huff/Post50, BELLA NYC magazine, Reader's Digest and numerous boomer and senior-related websites. As a recent adoptive mom, the York, Pa. resident has added content on international adoption to her blog portfolio.