Silver Surfers: How Technology Helps Seniors and Caregivers
Industry Perspective Some of the latest and greatest tech gadgets and services are geared to keeping seniors safe and reducing unwanted feelings of isolation.
The myth that seniors are technophobes is often untrue. While our older generations did not grow up texting, playing online videos games or sharing all of their life’s details on social media, many “silver surfers” once trained or instructed on how to use the new technology, and after experiencing the benefits, are hooked.
For all ages
Today, many technology companies are designing with seniors and caregivers in mind. And while some technology advances were not designed specifically for an older population, they still eliminate the physical barriers of aging. This trend called “universal design” is about making it work for an eight-year-old or an 80-year-old.
An example is found in the touchscreen technology on tablets, computers and smartphones. This technology not only eliminates problems with arthritic or shaky hands manipulating a computer mouse but aids declining eyesight by adjusting font size. And, the lightweight nature of the newest tablets means mom can read the 992-page Don Quixote without a feeling like she’s lifting a 10-pound dumbbell.
"Technology addresses caregiver concerns such as medication compliance, getting a senior immediate help if they have fallen or are having a health emergency, or simply shutting off appliances, such as a stove left on for hours."
The benefits of technology are not just for seniors but for family caregivers too. By helping a loved one adopt a tech gadget, app or service, safety risks and the isolation for the 11 million Americans living alone can be overcome. In fact, the Administration on Aging reports 47 percent of women over age 75 live alone and the Kaiser Family Foundation found 5 million Americans need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Enter: the caregiving tech zone.
Senior safety is one of the biggest concerns caregivers face. A category of aging technology called personal emergency response systems (PERS or MPERS for the mobile versions) and special safety apps are fueling an industry that Berg Insights reported will be $20 billion by 2020.
Technology addresses caregiver concerns such as medication compliance, getting a senior immediate help if they have fallen or are having a health emergency, or simply shutting off appliances, such as a stove left on for hours. Some of these services and gadgets use GPS tracking technology while others use remote monitoring through sensors. Some seniors resist the notion of their privacy being invaded, but an AARP study found 65 percent of seniors would give up some privacy to stay safe.
Keeping better track
For caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease who have encountered wandering problems, a GPS-enabled device helps the loved one stay independent without putting their safety at risk by letting the caregiver know when the loved one has broken the geo-fence perimeter established. Another breakthrough is a wireless chip in pill bottle caps that glow or send an audio signal when a medication was forgotten or not taken in the proper dosage.
Besides safety, an increasing caregiver concern is senior isolation. Studies show social connections are part of our genetic make-up for survival and longevity. To overcome isolation, especially for seniors who are less mobile or are homebound, pre-loaded software and apps on devices and products ranging from smartphones to tablets to traditional TVs are allowing seniors to stay connected with family and friends.
One of the biggest technology advantages for social connectivity is video chat capability. Caregivers as well as other family and friends can actually see the senior and vice versa. The connection is virtual but visual and the peace of mind for caregivers is priceless.
As our population ages, caregivers can help seniors shift from abandoning things they loved to do or feeling separated from loved ones to adapting to the technology that will keep them safe and connected.