Seniors, until relatively recently, might not have considered the possibility of aging in place, meaning they stay in their homes. Instead, there was often the automatic assumption that older people would move in with family or they would go to an assisted living community or nursing home.
This isn’t inherently true anymore. More seniors and their families are seeing the benefits of aging in place.
There are still programs where people can receive home care and services, but they remain in an environment that’s familiar and comfortable for them.
Technology has made a lot of this possible even though just a decade ago, it might not have been.
If you’re a senior and you hope to age in your home and remain independent, or you’re helping a loved one plan for their future, understanding the available technology can help you figure out the best strategy.
The Benefits of Aging in Place
There’s a reason staying in your home is becoming the preferred option for so many Americans.
First, you can stay in a place that’s comfortable and familiar for you. Moving can be physically and mentally stressful. For older people, it can cause more confusion, and it can also lead to mental health symptoms like depression.
When you’re in your home, even if you need some help along the way, you can also retain your sense of independence and empowerment. That’s important, and it’s key for aging with dignity and continuing to enjoy a good quality of life.
Financially, it can also make more sense. Assisted living and nursing facilities can be incredibly expensive. There are programs that can cover some of the costs of in-home care, which is almost always going to be less expensive than out-of-the-home options.
If you have grandchildren and family members who come visit you often, you might also want them to have a home where they come to and make memories rather than visiting you in an impersonal place.
How technology helps
Loved ones who have an aging parent or family member often worry they’ll be lonely or disconnected from the world around them. Technology can go a long way to help avoid these risks.
For example, during the pandemic, when many people were isolated from their older relatives, they worked on helping them learn how to use technology like video chat platforms. It became a way to socially connect, catch up and avoid isolation, even with physical distance.
There are also a lot of ways that technology can make life easier and more convenient for older people, in addition to providing their loved ones with peace of mind.
Even just having a smartphone is a tremendous asset for older people. You can use a mobile device to get news, email, and apps that help you stay on top of your health and remind you when it’s time to take medication.
Technology use among older people is associated with better self-rated health, a higher subjective sense of well-being, lower depression, and even fewer chronic conditions. These benefits were discovered during a study by the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University.
Below, we talk more specifically about some of the ways technology helps facilitate aging in place.
There are a growing set of mobile apps geared toward the needs of seniors.
Some of these include:
- AARP Now: This free app provides news that’s specific and relevant to seniors, it helps them find AARP membership discounts and offers, and there are local events listed. When you use the app, you can set it up to remind you of both local deals and events, and you have digital access to your AARP membership through the platform.
- Magnifying Glass + Light: With this free app, you can use your camera and flashlight to read the small print. The app also has features for zooming and adjusting brightness.
- Life360: This is an excellent app that helps make sure that your loved one is safe and sound anytime. You can use notifications with GPS tracking so that you’ll see where your loved one is at any given time. You can also share your own location with your senior loved one, so they’ll know where you are too.
- Pacer: This app is a step tracker that coordinates with your phone. A senior can participate in challenges with friends and discover new walking paths, keeping them fit and engaged.
There are so many other types of apps with wonderful features for seniors. For example, we know that older people need to keep their brains active and engaged. Online games and app-based games are good ways to do this to help prevent cognitive decline.
While many of the things above are more about fun and leisure, there are plenty of technology options for safety. These include:
- Fall detection: For anyone who hopes to age in place and maintains independence but do so safely, fall detection is a must. There are a variety of types of fall detection, including the Walabot HOME. The Walabot Home is the first automated fall alert system specifically for the bathroom, where the overwhelming majority of falls take place. The Walabot doesn’t require a wearable necklace or bracelet. Instead, it’s automatically activated, and you don’t even have to remember to push a button. The device learns the bathroom of a home, then continuously monitors it with radio frequency sensors. If someone falls, an emergency contact is notified with a two-way voice call and a text message. The alarm is disabled by standing up.
- Medical alert technology: In the past, wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace could feel cumbersome and embarrassing for some people. Now, many companies are making wearables that look like any other smart device. They’re inconspicuous and still provide safety and peace of mind.
- Medication management: Mixing up medications, taking the wrong things at the wrong time, or doubling up on doses can be a serious and even life-threatening problem for seniors. There are technology tools, including electronic, automated medicine dispensers, that can help avoid this.
- Fire prevention: An older person might benefit from a kitchen with stovetop sensors that will automatically turn the appliance off to prevent a fire. There are brands that monitor for both motion and unattended pots, while other options are triggered by the presence of smoke. The Safe T Sensor is for microwaves, and at the first sign of smoke, it stops power.
- Remote monitoring: These tech tools can include wireless sensors that can be put on chairs, beds, wheelchairs, or doors and windows.
Home automation is great for people of any age, not just seniors. Some of the ways you can use home automation include:
- Using keypad locks on doors and deadbolts eliminates the need to try and find keys or turn the levers of a deadbolt.
- A voice-activated thermostat lets you change the room temperature without getting up.
- Appliance monitoring helps seniors remember to turn off things like an oven or coffee pot and can automatically lock doors.
- Smart home hubs like Alexa are good for seniors because they can do different things around the house without getting up. They can even use them to call an Uber. If someone has limited mobility or is wheelchair-dependent, these devices help them be more independent.
- A relatively new option is called LifePod. This is a voice-assisted technology that lets users engage with the device like they would something like Alexa, but also be checked in at regular intervals which are pre-programmed. For example, the LifePod could be used for reminders about when to take medication.
- If a senior has a Ring doorbell or similar video doorbell system, it can help them identify visitors. You could also set it up if you’re a loved one so that you can see who’s coming and going at the other person’s house. You can monitor everything, including when your loved one might be leaving or coming home. If you have mobility issues, a smart video doorbell can make your life easier.
- Smart lighting is great because it can trigger a home to be automatically lit, reducing the risk of falling. Lights can be programmed to turn on at certain times of day, or they can be used with a motion detector so that anytime someone enters the room, it is illuminated.
- Devices like the Amazon Echo are screens that can fit anywhere so that you can drop in on your loved one for two-way video chats.
With the American population aging, there is a big push for society to rethink what it means to get older. So many of us hope to be as independent as possible for as long as we can.
That means that companies are likely to continue introducing technology and gadgets that facilitate this desire. The more you can take advantage of technology, the more connected you can be with your loved ones, and the better you’ll feel about them continuing to live independently.