Healthcare

Adding Life to Twilight Years with Assistive Technologies

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

True that. And yet, as we get on with the years, and the body slows down, leading a comfortable life with no assistance becomes a difficult proposition. While our desire to live independently goes up dramatically in the golden years, our ability to lead the same quality of life decreases rapidly.

With advancing age, older adults struggle daily to feel in control but their physical limitations often let them down. Fortunately for those who are ready to adapt, technology is at hand. Technology today provides seniors the opportunity to live with dignity, in their place of choice (be it their own home or a retirement community), comfortably and confidently, without compromising on their freedom. Adding more “life” to their twilight years!

How Seniors Respond to Technology

Today, senior living is undergoing a major shift. The “new generation” of seniors, typically people aged 65 and above, have a greater level of technological awareness, and are more digitally engaged than the generation prior to theirs. According to statistics shared by the Pew Research Center[1], in the early 70s age group, 68% go online and 55% have a broadband connection. Health professionals also substantiate the considerable benefits of this change – seniors who happily board the technology bandwagon report lower levels of depression and improved cognitive brain functions. They also realize that their livability can increase by incorporating assistive technologies into their lives once they are past the age of 75-80 years.

More and more seniors are embracing computers and the internet simply because they realize that it is everywhere – from the way they do their banking or shopping to how they interact with their family, especially their precious millennial grandkids! Seniors today show a keen desire to be digitally literate and for perhaps the first time bridging the generation gap isn’t that hard anymore.

Some Fear Technology at a Loss to Themselves

Then again, there are some seniors who have an inherent fear of computers and technology and are lacking in awareness of the significant improvements technology can bring to their lives. Unwilling seniors include those suffering from physical disabilities such as hearing or vision loss, or a reading handicap. Those with financial constraints or lower levels of education find the learning curve especially challenging. If only they would overcome the initial hesitation and awkwardness, they would see the larger benefits. Research has found that once seniors get comfortable using technology, they use it almost as often as younger adults[2].

Assisting Senior Living with Technology

In the last few years, lots of beneficial gadgets and applications have been developed that help seniors lead independent lives. Must-haves include:

  • Tablets – Given their portability, lightweight tablets are ideal for elders as compared to bulky computers and laptops. Browsing through pictures of friends and loved ones, connecting with them through social media and voice chatting on Skype, catching up on their reading through e-books (font adjustment features are a big plus here) and playing online games are all beneficial to an older adult’s mental health.
  • Smartphones – They bring a range of useful apps to the seniors’ fingertips. The larger touchscreen models are often preferred as they allow elders with dexterity issues like arthritis to manipulate the phone more easily. Availability of GPS, shared transportation apps, reminders and alarm buttons make seniors feel more secure and confident about moving around town when using such a mobile device.
  • Fitness and health tracking wearables – Fitbits and smart watches help older adults maintain an active lifestyle by monitoring exercise and sleep routines. GPS insoles that are wearables are meant for patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s so that their movements can be easily tracked even if they get disoriented or lost.
  • Medication dispensing units – Seniors sometimes forget to take their medicines on time, or are unable to keep track of the dosage. They can now rely on automated dispensers. These can be stocked by caregivers with several days’ worth of medications, and give reminders for timely intake and also notify caregivers in case a dose has been missed.
  • Home security systems – Family members living far from their elderly family members can monitor them remotely through these innovative and discreet wireless sensors placed around the senior’s property. They track movements and patterns, providing a wealth of information about the well-being of the elder to the long-distance caregiver.
  • Online estate repository services – Digital archives offer flexibility and peace of mind to seniors on how they would like their assets utilized after they bid adieu to the world. They allow storage of wills, advance directives, and property related information along with directions on information sharing.

Bridging the Digital Gap Education is crucial to ensure that seniors don’t fall behind in maneuvering the “digital divide”. Training sessions aimed at teaching how to use digital devices not only empower the elders but provide a wonderful opportunity for inter-generational learning.

To make the seniors tech savvy is a guaranteed way to make them feel connected, loved and happy.

[1] Pew Research Center (http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2014/04/PIP_Seniors-and-Tech-Use_040314.pdf)

[2] Source: http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2014/04/03-majority-of-older-int-users-go-online-daily.png

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