Covid Brought A Much-Needed Tech Infusion To The Lives Of Older Adults At Home And Senior Living Communities
Covid-19 has brought us undeniable heartache and stress. However, it has also yielded some positive changes to our lives, and one of those is better and more widely used communication technology. Cell phones, especially smartphones, have become almost indispensable to daily life. Ninety-one percent of older adults own a cell phone and 53% of those are smartphones. And during Covid, they came into major use with food delivery from restaurants and from grocery stores. Some of the most popular food delivery apps, like Instacart, UberEats, Doordash, and Grubhub
Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime allow us to connect with loved ones and business associates no matter how far we live from them. Smart home devices provide entertainment, safety, and convenience for older adults in their home. These smart devices and upgraded internet connectivity have also made possible the advent of tele-health. Once an iffy and oft-rejected idea for connecting with patients, Covid brought tele-health into the lives of doctors across the globe and allowed many people to have private conversations with their doctor, with the enhancement of a visual component, without risking infection by going to a medical facility.
Smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can play music, give you the weather forecast, provide reminders, and much more. Smart sensors monitor your home and send you alerts of anything suspicious. Video doorbells like Nest and Ring allow you to see on your smartphone who is at your door and alert you to a package that has been dropped off. They are especially appealing to people with limited mobility or as a security measure for those who live alone. These are all devices that allow us to have a “smart. Home.”
The tech sector has been interested in the older adult world for many years now. Technology holds great promise for making life better as we get older, especially with the wearable technologies. Herman, now 87, lives in his own one-story home in a mid-sized town in the Midwest. He doesn’t want to go to an expensive senior living community and wouldn’t be able to afford most of them he has inquired upon, so his home has become something of a cyber-castle. In addition to the devices mentioned above, Herman’s sleep is monitored via a device connected to his ear, his refrigerator monitors what he eats (and doesn’t eat), a pill dispenser in his kitchen gives him his tailored medication, and smart appliances shut off if they sense they are untended.
In addition, Herman and his adult children, who are acting as a team to monitor changes that bear attention, have agreed to install more advanced monitoring devices if they become necessary for him. These could include a smart toilet to monitor frequency of use as well as the analysis of what goes into the toilet. This is tremendously useful for catching UTIs and other infections that become more common as we get older. They might also install fall detection warning systems, all readily available through an internet search or recommendations from professional caregivers or senior care advisors.
The cost of all these consumer products an be somewhat prohibitive, but they are coming down every year because of large-scale production and competition in almost every arena.
Until very recently, senior living communities (continuing care, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing) have depended on some pretty archaic and outdated mechanisms. Those days seem to be over, thanks in part to “Hail Mary” moves by many senior living communities during the lockdown at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Fortunately, most of those moves paid off and have become permanent pieces of the communication and entertainment systems in those communities, and with that has come tremendous growth in the number of older adults who are comfortable with pieces of technology that make their lives better.
One of the most recent entrants to the elder tech arena is Sage, an operating system that replaces nurse call (and similar) systems in senior living facilities. Sage connects older adults with their caregivers through a hardware and software package that captures critical data from users and transmits it to caregivers so they can make better-informed and more timely decisions about client care.
In addition, most senior living facilities have been very proactive in setting up the space and training their residents and staff on the use of tele-health. When it was especially risky for older adults to be out and about in the community, going to doctor appointments, dental appointments, and physical therapy, tele-health was able to move much of that online so that only residents who became acutely ill and needed immediate treatment had to leave the premises. That was one of the measures that kept other residents safe from the infections they may have brought in.
Many senior living communities are making good use of robotics in their facilities as well. The Mitra robot from Clearday and Invento Research. Mitra marries sophisticated robotics with Clearday’s proprietary streaming service to promote engagement and improved quality of life for older adults with cognitive challenges. Mitra provides physical therapy exercises and tracking of performance.
Robots are now deployed in many ways in senior living facilities. They serve meals, they clean the dining room, they patrol the halls, they deliver medication, they sing, dance and entertain, they instruct in various forms of movement for exercises, and they are already serving as companions to residents who would otherwise not see another resident all day long. There are at least a dozen companies, across the globe, that are working on advancing robotic technology, specifically with seniors in mine.