By Joel Landau
Technology is always at the forefront of the thinking of The Allure Group’s leadership team. It needs to be top of mind with seniors as well, whether they are aging in place or ensconced in a skilled nursing facility like one of the six in Allure’s network.
Granted, tech can seem intimidating to those of a certain age. Cyber security and cost are also potential issues. But tech can inform and entertain. It can make seniors safer and happier. It can help them heal, help them shop and help them get around. It can allow them to be more independent while at the same time reducing whatever feelings of isolation they might have.
On balance, then, there is much for seniors to consider on the technology front, and much more on the horizon. Developers are well aware that the U.S. is aging by the day, and that those age 50 and older have considerable buying power. CNBC cited a 2016 AARP statistic showing that those in that age cohort account for a staggering $7.6 trillion in economic activity, meaning that companies will continue to crank out senior-oriented tech.
The Consumer Technology Association predicts — again, via CNBC — that by 2022 the active aging industry (a blanket designation for tech in the health, safety, wellness and fitness sectors) will triple, to some $30 billion. It will, as a result, be paramount for seniors to educate themselves about what’s out there, as it will not only save them money and aggravation; it could very well save their lives. At the very least, it has the potential to improve their quality of life.
Seniors seem keenly aware of all that. Four in 10 people aged 65 and over now have cell phones. This might not sound like many, but is actually double the number that had them in 2013. Progress. There are signs that tech is fast becoming part of their everyday lives.
And indeed it is pervasive in sectors such as:
Healthcare: Allure has been on the cutting edge of this movement, as we have implemented such technology as EarlySense, a remote patient-monitoring system that tracks vital signs and movements, as well as robotics to aid those recovering from various ailments; a virtual-reality system serves the same purpose for those looking to recover from stroke. Additionally, we feature a telemedicine platform for remote care.
Elsewhere, there have been various breakthroughs on the Internet of Things (IoT) — i.e., the world of interconnected devices — that allow for the care of maladies like diabetes, arthritis, COPD and arthritis. There are even pill dispensers that can issue reminders to patients about when it’s time to take medication.
A particularly interesting development is that of a virtual-reality headset that allows healthcare professionals to understand what life is like for those dealing with various afflictions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and macular degeneration.
Safety: This is wide-ranging, whether the discussion is of home security and the use of such devices as smart locks, security cameras and motion sensors, or ensuring seniors’ well-being courtesy of medical alert gadgets capable of notifying healthcare professionals in the event of a fall or other medical emergency.
Falls are a particular concern for those 65 and older, as one in four Americans in that age group takes a tumble every year, resulting in some 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths. It is the leading cause of fatal injury among seniors.
At least one company has attempted to deal with the root causes of falls — side effects from medication, environmental obstacles and weakening muscles — by creating such gadgets as wearable monitors and protective belts.
Convenience: Whether through the use of smart thermostats, lights and blinds that can be adjusted remotely or apps that afford one access to a ride-sharing service, a meal or other goods and services, there is seemingly no end to the ways in which one’s life can be made easier.
Virtual assistants are of course already at the forefront of this use case. Such devices as the Amazon Echo or Google Echo allow users to do all of the above, in addition to providing information and entertainment.
Still in their infancy are such things as smart refrigerators, which monitor the interior temperature, take stock of groceries and replenish the supply online.
Socialization: Phones, computers, tablets and virtual assistants like those just mentioned allow seniors to connect with friends and family members — to exchange not only calls, texts and emails but also to connect via video chats or Skype calls. That is no small matter, as isolation has been found to be a major concern among seniors, leading to such afflictions as heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s and premature death.
Another virtual assistant, ElliQ, takes steps to alleviate loneliness by performing its tasks proactively. In other words, it tracks the habits and preferences of users and makes suggestions to them. Maybe they’re in the habit of calling their children on a certain day, or accustomed to playing pinochle with other seniors at a certain time; ElliQ will take note, and offer reminders.
For those seeking the companionship of a pet (without some of the hassles), there is also a company that produces robotic cats and dogs, that do many of the same things their flesh-and-blood counterparts do.
Again, many of these devices aren’t cheap. That’s caveat No. 1. The other thing that must be stressed is the cyber security issues — how all manner of devices have fallen prey to hackers over the years, including smart ones. So in every way seniors, not unlike those in other age groups, should go in with eyes wide open when exploring their tech options. If they do, they stand to benefit in the long run.
**Joel Landau is founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a network of six New York City-based skilled nursing facilities. He has served as a member or an advisor on a number of boards and committees, including the Medicaid Managed Care Advisory Review Panel (MCCARP), NYS DOH Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant, NYS DOH Task Force on Long Term Care Financing, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.