Assistive Technology Improves Ageing In Place
Where Do Older Adults Live?
The study OLDER AMERICAN 2010 Key Indicators of Well-Being identifies 37 areas associated with positive outcomes of ageing well. These key indicators provide a comprehensive picture of the health and wellness of the ageing population in America. One key indicator shows that 93% of medicare recipients 65 and older live in traditional communities either independently, with family or some type of shared living arrangement. Most adults 65 and older choose to live independently for as long as possible and reject the idea of moving into retirement communities.
What Is Ageing In Place?
The definition for ageing in place is kind of ambiguous simply because the phrase is used in a variety of housing settings. Essentially "Ageing In Place" means having the ability to remain as long as possible in a home of one's own choosing, living with independence, choice and dignity.
The typical ageing progression is associated with functional and/or cognitive declines often requiring help with basic needs. Ageing in place initiatives seek to address the meeting of one's needs by bringing services to the home either through family caregiving or in-home services.
Barriers to Ageing In Place
One out of every three elders 65 and older fall each year, alarmingly, less than half report their falls to a doctor. The outcomes associated with falling often impact an older adults ability to live independently. These outcomes reported by the CDC include:
- Over twenty percent of older adults who fall experience moderate to severe injury including bruising, lacerations, head injuries and hip fractures.
- Falls ore the most common cause of traumatic brain injury among the elderly accounting for 46% of the deaths due to a fall.
- Falls are a major cause of bone fractures among older adults.
- Many elders who have experienced a fall develop a fear of falling causing activity limiting behaviors leading to reduced mobility and increased risk of falling.
- Medication errors account for over 200,000 hospitalizations annualy
- Over 50% of elders are non-compliant with medication regimes.
- 60% of the emergency room visits among elders result from improper use of medications.
- Medication errors are a major contributor to falls among older adults.
Technology and Ageing Now
Advances in technology have come a long way in recent years, but some of these technologies have been around for over forty years. One example is the Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) which has been available for many years now. The most recognizable comes with the catch phrase, " I've fallen and I can't get up." These systems use a push button pendent or wrist bracelet to alert emergency services in the event of a fall or emergency situation in the home.
Today you can wire your whole house and control it from you phone, from your thermostat to your stove you can control many appliance from a distance. Security cameras allow you to view any portion of your house you want from a computer or smart phone. Although many of us are not likely to use these features today, we may choose to in the near future.
Ageing adults and their families can take advantage of whole house wireless technologies that monitor activity to create Daily living routines using intuitive technologies. These systems will notice a break down in normal activities and send an alert to family members or caregivers via email or mobile phone text messaging. Additionally sensing devices can monitor sleep/wake cycles from beds, movements out of chairs and falls.
Advances in medical technologies are currently available that allow transfer of data through closed systems to caregivers and medical professionals including weight, blood pressure and glucose levels.
Today there are systems available that are similar to security monitoring systems that are specifically designed to track, monitor, analyze and report on household activities. The system identifies typical daily activities or movements like wake times, meal times or TV time which occur in patterns. Once the pattern is developed and intuitively stored, the system is then capable of producing an email or text alert in real time. For example if dad wakes every morning at 8:00 am and makes a cup of coffee, the system will know it dad does not make his coffee today and then an alert is generated and sent to a list of contacts. A system package can include door sensors, cupboard sensors, bed, toilet and water sensors with the ability to program rules around each sensor for activation of alerts to caregivers.
Although these systems appear to be intrusive, many users report that the systems are rarely noticeable with the benefits outweighing the inconvenience.
The Future of Ageing Technology
The current advances in medical technology will lead to more affordable care in the homes of ageing adults. Companies such as Intel are recognizing the power, efficiency and cost savings technology brings to ageing in place.
Most of the current focus is on medical devices designed to provide medical care in the home through connections with hospitals and clinics. However these advances are slow to reach consumers because government regulations such as HIPPA protect and control medical information practices.
On a large scale these technologies are in development by companies including Intel and General Electric connecting Hospitals and clinics with patients.
Smaller scale systems are becoming available through independent development projects and becoming increasingly available.
How Much Technology Do We Need?
As I researched this topic I found that the advances in technology can pretty much track our every move, in the home or out of the home. There is a device for everything from cell phones with GPS, voice activated messaging and instant communication. We have automobiles that talk to data centers when an accident occurs and we can wire our homes to do most anything we want from checking for buglers to cooking supper.
From the perspective of aging this question arises. How will technology benefit elders to remain independent at home? Some of the systems feel a bit intrusive to me, allowing caregivers the ability to monitor every move made in the home from wake, sleep cycles to when you pee. As I spoke to a representative of one of the major alarm companies he made this comment: "When a person requires this much oversight, they should probably not be living alone."
Simple solutions may offer the best result with the lowest amount of intrusion.