How Tech Is Helping More People Age At Home
The vast majority of seniors would choose aging at home rather than going to a hospital or other facility. Americans are living longer, and the vast majority would prefer to age in their own home and community. But there are challenges and costs associated with maintaining that independence. From apps to devices and wearables, healthcare technology is helping more people age in place.
Nearly 11,000 people turn 65 each day in the United States. The Census Bureau projects the annual number to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060.
Not surprisingly, 9 out of 10 senior citizens would prefer to stay in their own homes and not go to a nursing home or assisted living facility, if possible, according to an AARP study.
A 2015 report by the National Council on Aging says the leading reasons people want to age in place include liking where they live, having friends and family nearby, and not wanting to deal with the inconvenience and expense of moving.
What Does It Mean to Age in Place?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.’’
When Lin’s 71-year-old husband suffered a mild stroke, they made the decision to remain in their large Tampa, Florida, home of 40 years.
“Not only does aging in place allow us to keep our current social network and expand upon it,” Lin says, “it gives us the freedom to keep our pets, host friends at home, entertain all the grandkids, and continue with what we enjoy — instead of moving to a facility and being socially isolated and lonely.”
The emotional effects of leaving one’s home or community can have serious health implications.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults ages 52 and older. Loneliness has been linked to elevated blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and mortality.
Of course, aging in place isn’t always an option, depending on the individual’s physical and mental health, treatment needs, and other circumstances.
Still, according to James J. Callahan, Jr., author of the book Aging in Place, “thousands of older people have been flowing into nursing homes unnecessarily when they can and should remain in their own home or apartment.”
Where Tech Meets Aging in Place
Aging in place is a lot safer now than even a decade ago due in large part to a wide range of technologies. These include apps that can analyze your home environment and recommend modifications to make it safer, voiceenabled devices that provide easy access to health information and services, and telemedicine that enables at-home patients to connect with healthcare providers.
“All businesses and entrepreneurs need to recognize the growing economic power and potential of the 50-plus market and help create innovative solutions to empower us to live better as we age,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins in a press release about AARP’s showcase of “age-tech” at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The following are just a few examples of how technology can help make aging at home easier and more secure.
Knowing What Home Modifications Are Needed
When Bob, a 58-year-old resident of Atlanta fell off a ladder and broke his femur and wrist three years ago, he was given two choices by his doctor: undergo rehab at a facility 40 minutes away or modify his home so he could recover and live independently there.
“I’d never thought about being unable to climb up my front porch steps or two flights of stairs in our home,” Bob says.
“This was a big wake-up call that I had to make modifications in order to live at home and age in place.”
What modifications are necessary depends on the senior’s home environment and physical needs. “Some [of my patients] add a first-floor bedroom and bath, while others convert the downstairs kids’ playroom or garage into a bedroom,” says Harris McIlwain, MD, a Florida based board certified rheumatologist and geriatrician and former medical director of John Knox Village, an assisted living and rehabilitation facility.
“I remind them to add safety features, such as grab bars and a shower chair, to prevent falls, which become more frequent with aging and can lead to loss of independence,” Dr. McIlwain says.
So what home modifications can and should someone make?
HomeFit AR is an app that uses a smartphone to scan a room and determine what modifications should be made to ensure safety and mobility. HomeFit AR identifies your home’s design and large appliances, then provides a to-do list to help make your home safe and accessible.
Ensuring Adherence to Medication Regimens
Medication adherence in older patients is a major concern. About 50 percent do not take their medications as prescribed, according to a report in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Seniors are often taking several prescription drugs, which requires keeping track of dosages and when certain drugs should be taken. Vision loss can also make it difficult to read labels and distinguish between medications.
Pillo Health offers a device that uses voice recognition, real-time alerts, and video-calling capabilities to remind users when it’s time for their medication, so it’s taken on schedule and at the right dose. The device stores and dispenses up to four weeks of pills and alerts the user when it’s time for refills.
It also allows professional and family caregivers to monitor someone’s health remotely.
Alerting Others in the Event of an Emergency
In the event of an accident like a fall or a medical emergency, prompt medical assistance is critical. For seniors living at home, a medical alert system can be invaluable.
BellPal offers a watch that functions as a medical alert device. Users can choose either a professional protection plan or a friends and family plan. In the event of an emergency, the watch can notify loved ones via their smartphone or a 24/7 monitoring center that can then contact the EMS, police, or fire department as needed. The watch also uses motion detection sensors to recognize if the wearer has fallen.
CarePredict@Home is a smart wearable that uses AI to detect changes in daily patterns that may signal a health problem. It can alert others if the user has been skipping meals, has trouble sleeping, hasn’t gotten out of bed, or anything else out of the ordinary.
Telemedicine and Self- Monitoring
Getting to see a doctor in the office can be especially hard for older patients for many reasons, including lack of mobility and access to transportation. That’s where telemedicine (virtual visits with a healthcare provider) can come in:
CallOnDoc, for example, is one of many platforms available that allow for virtual at-home medical visits. Patients can get answers from health providers, as well as prescriptions for medications for anything from relatively minor issues to chronic conditions.
One of the hottest health-tech devices at this month’s CES was MedWand.
The device, which will be available later this year, combines several diagnostic tools, including an ECG and a pulse oximeter. Patient data can then be shared with a doctor.
Complete, made by Omron Healthcare, is a novel Food and Drug Administration– cleared technology that provides blood pressure and EKG monitoring with one device and can share the data with your physician using an app.
Falls are the leading cause of injury related death among people age 65 and older, according to the CDC. The Zibrio SmartScale helps assess an individual’s risk of falling by measuring and tracking physical balance. The device was singled out among technology startups at the Consumer Technology Association Foundation Pitch event at CES, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs.
Managing Chronic Pain at Home
According to the National Health and Aging Trends Study, more than half of older adults report having bothersome pain and three-quarters have pain in more than one part of the body.
While there are many effective pain medications, chronic pain sufferers can also benefit from devices like Sana Health, a wearable that reduces pain using pulsed light and sound.
Aging in place requires planning ahead, based on your near-term needs and knowing that they can change over time. Talk to your doctor about any health problems or concerns you have and what assistive devices and home modifications could help.
“I encourage my 50-plus patients to think ahead of what they might need when aging in place,” says McIlwain. It is also important to begin researching the appropriate Medicare plan for your lifestyle.