Technological Advancements that Improve Senior Care
by Wendy Hoke
With baby boomers rolling into retirement in large numbers, the opportunity for developing gadgets to assist them as they age continues to grow. Currently, the marketplace has seen a flood of innovative and handy items to address a wide array of issues that seniors can face.
Certain not-for-profit organizations that provide support services for elderly communities have teamed up with companies like Intel-GE Care Innovations to create technology-based solutions that deliver remote health care, such as systems designed to give residents the capability to take their own vital signs. The system transmits the data to caregivers for remote monitoring.
Other innovations include motion sensor systems that can relay data on the activity of a senior and notify a caregiver to check in if no activity has occurred for a set amount of time.
These capabilities to perform remote monitoring of seniors’ health and activities will likely grow in sophistication with technological advancements, which in turn may allow more seniors to remain independent in their own homes for longer periods. The inclusion of microchips in senior-assist systems has expanded the functionality of many gadgets. For instance, shoes can now be embedded with chips that contain GPS tracking functionality for patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s in case they wander off.
Smart clothing, utilized primarily by athletes, is being developed to target the elderly with sensors that can monitor respiration, heart rate and muscle movement, and that information can be collected, analyzed and sent to an individual’s doctor. Clothing may be developed that can sense a heart attack and automatically alert 911 with GPS coordinates. Here are several technological advancements that could assist the aging population in the future.
Edema socks. These novel socks have been developed to identify and notify their wearers of edema and swollen feet. Using the technology of a Danish company, Ohmatex, the symptoms can sometimes be signs of other health conditions that need addressing.
Self-driving cars. While the technology is still being worked out, this one development may help many seniors who value maintaining their independence. Being forced to turn in one’s driver’s license and give up driving is a fear that many seniors face. Google has been test-driving its self-driving cars, and Uber is testing electric, self-driving fleets in Pittsburgh. These cars utilize sensors that evaluate the immediate, surrounding environment and the internal software handles the actual driving. While still in the experimental phase, some experts suggest the cars will be widely available in the next ten years. This coincides with many baby boomers reaching their mid-70s. Self-driving cars many be one of the best innovations for seniors, giving them freedom to get around town and do their own errands.
SmartSox for diabetics. Researchers at the University of Arizona are testing SmartSox. These socks use fiber optics to identify excessive heat, pressure and misaligned joint angles that could result in foot ulcers. Diabetics frequently lose all sensation in their feet, thus making them susceptible to remaining unaware of sores, infections and other problems that can become very serious for them.
Shoes that help prevent falls. Amazingly, some research has shown that vibrating shoe insoles have the ability to improve an individual’s stability and balance, thereby reducing the potential of a fall by 70 percent. While the study has shown the technology to be useful, no manufacturer is currently producing this particular wearable technology.
Shirts that can perform CPR. Now this is novel! The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is designing a smart shirt that could sense a heart attack and perform CPR. The shirt is years away from being economical enough to market, but shirts that utilize sensors already exist primarily for athletic wear.
Smart homes that use voice recognition. Smart home technology already exists using apps, sensors and computers, although consumers using them fall mainly into the early adopter category. As use spreads, voice recognition systems may be integrated, which would benefit many seniors who have difficulty seeing small screens or using computers. Seniors will be able to tell the Roomba to vacuum the dining room or tell the garage door to close itself.
Nurse robots. Some technology is being developed to create robots with enough artificial intelligence to perform certain health care functions. These robots could transmit data to health care providers and family in addition to giving medication reminders. Robot nurses will be tested next year in Poland, Greece, and England.
Senior networks. Although this is currently available in Israel, two groups have developed an online network designed to keep seniors engaged. Watchitoo and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee have created a video platform that works in real time. While the class sizes are limited to 12 currently, the system has the capability to support 25 participants in each seminar. The program works to reach remote populations and give isolated seniors the opportunity to participate in social activities from their home. Since studies have shown that loneliness can be a future indicator of dementia, the network will target engagement rather than academics.