The notion that older Americans are a bunch of luddites is dead. The latest news is that the elderly are as wired as ever - if not now, then very soon.
What’s hidden under their mattresses? They aren’t quarters or silver dollars. They’re wired mattress pads streaming data to servers analyzing sleep patterns of an 88-year-old grandmother resting comfortably in her connected home.
Turns out your average older American is well on the way to being far more wired and tethered to technology than your average millennial is.
Millennials can run their offices from their smartphones, and they know their way around social media, but that’s about it.
Grandparents benefit from everything from edge detection technology to indoor navigation to “assistive jogger” contraptions to technological mattress pads, toilets and pill boxes, to protective head gear and hip protection.
Who’s more wired now?
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said recent advances in technology have allowed families to track changes in health status and emergency situations affecting older family members.
The more information families have about the physical and physiological whereabouts of their parents, the more adult children can plan for the kind of retirement parents want, which is to say at home and away from institutional settings.
“While it may not be possible for every person, depending on a number of factors, to remain in their homes - for many of us, with the right supports, it is possible,” McCaskill said at a recent hearing on the role technology plays in helping seniors live independent lives.
Charles S. Strickler testified before the Senate panel on how he and his wife provided for his 85-year-old mother and 76-year-old mother-in-law. He estimated that keeping his mother-in-law out of a nursing home in Virginia has saved his family as much as $327,000 in expenses to pay for nursing home and health aide services over the past two-and-a-half years.
By contrast, the cost of wiring his in-law cottage was $2,189 along with a monthly fee of $59, he said.
Gerontology and public policy experts know that keeping people independent as long as possible is a much better and cheaper alternative than “warehousing” octogenarians in assisted living and nursing homes.
Marjorie Skubic, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri and an expert in “aging in place” research, said the idea is to use technology as an early warning system.
Detecting issues early means that health problems are more manageable and can be treated less expensively with higher rates of success, she said. “People get services when they need them, regain independence, and then services are limited or withdrawn so costs are controlled.”
Carol Kim, vice president of research at the University of Maine, said “edge detection” offers new ways for senior citizens to retain their independence. Edge detection refers to high-contrast technologies to help see more clearly or track indoor movement through radio frequency identification. Edge detection also includes “assistive jogger” hardware, smart mattresses, and protective gear for the head and the hip.
Every year, between 30 and 40 percent of those ages 65 and older experience a fall. By 2020, injuries that result from falls will cost the U.S. an estimated $54.9 billion, Kim said.
There are an estimated 46.3 million people in the U.S. age 65 and older, and 20 million people age 75 and older, according to demographic statistics presented to the panel.
The technologies — some decidedly more low-tech than others — belong to what experts call the “aging in place movement.” This movement recognizes that senior citizens prefer aging among family members and that families would rather have their parents live in familiar surroundings.
Laurie M. Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch, an advocacy group for technology to improve the lives of the elderly, said the right technologies allow seniors to age in an environment of their choosing.
While technology gathers data to help families make decision about how and where to care for aging loved ones, technology isn’t a panacea and seniors present unique challenges to experts researching aging in place.
Strickler said that his mother declined to wear a “panic button” because she kept her cellphone on her at all times, only to find that when she fell and dislocated her rotator cuff and tore cartilage around the shoulder, it was too painful to reach her phone.
In another instance, Strickler said his mother-in-law, who was suffering from dementia, refused to use her personal emergency response system, an attached push-button pendant, because she had no intention of talking to an “unfamiliar voice in a box.”
“Aging-in-place technologies are not a silver bullet solution that will solve the problems of cost-effectively caring for our aging population, but from our experience, they can be a very integral part of the solution,” Strickler said.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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