5 Emerging Assistive Technologies in Senior Care

Assistive technologies are gaining traction in senior care communities. Soon, older adults and their families will value a senior care community’s technology features as much its dining options and caregiving staff. 

When one hears the term “old age,” they may envision declining health, low activity level and interest in life, memory loss, and even hospital beds.,.but it doesn’t have to be this way. Gone are the days where “aging” leads to living in a “nursing home.”  No one wants to get older, but you have the tools to still enjoy life – the key is technology.

What “Aging Gracefully” Means Today

Imagine a world where you can travel exotic lands or revisit your childhood neighborhood, all at the convenience of your chair. Imagine that it’s nearly impossible to under or overdose on your medicines and vitamins. Imagine being able to ask for things and getting them without ever lifting a finger or needing a caregiver 24/7. Imagine always knowing the location and status of your elderly loved one without constantly making phone calls, giving you peace of mind. This all innovative, real life senior care taking place today. Digital technologies have paved way in other consumer and commercial markets are finding meaningful application in the senior living space

What is Assistive Technology? 

Assistive technology includes IT devices and systems that help individuals with disabilities as well as older adults with mobility, safety, and their daily schedules. Examples range from medicine reminder devices to sensor systems that operate light switches with the clap of your hands.  

Assistive technology combined with assisted living or home healthcare empowers seniors to optimize their mental and physical wellbeing, while maintaining a degree of independence as they age.

These are some cutting edge memory care assistive technologies:

Virtual Reality (VR) Goggles: Senior Housing News recently reported that VR goggles can combat feelings of loneliness, a common struggle faced among older adults. According to the National Institute on Aging, loneliness from social isolation may cause depression, high blood pressure, obesity, and even Alzheimer’s. VR goggles provide stimulating experiences via sight, sounds, and sometimes even smell, making residents feel like they’re out and about without physically having to get up.

Example: Some VR goggles integrate with Google Maps so users can “go” anywhere from the block where they grew up, or the beach. VR goggles can also create “vacation” experiences with gorgeous scenery from tropical islands, rainforests, mountains, tourist attractions, and more. Some can even record and photograph event footage (e.g., weddings) to integrate into VR goggles, so their elderly loved ones can feel like they attended and made memories with them

Wireless Monitoring Devices: Seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s often lose memories of previously familiar people and surroundings, and also are at risk for wandering. Clip-on GPS devices attach to clothing, shoes, purses and accessories to provide the user’s location in any given time to caregivers. Having real time access to a memory care resident’s location reduces chances of accidents or getting lost. Popular in both senior communities and among families, these devices are non-invasive and user-friendly. 

Examples: AngelSense attaches to clothing and can alert caregivers with a user’s locations at any given time. Caregivers can even hear what’s happening in a user’s location. 

The GPS SmartSole fits in a shoe and automatically logs user locations. Caregivers may set a “safe” radius with an alarm that warns them if a user surpasses the specified distance. Regular charging, service plans, and network coverage area are required for this device to work.  

Alexa Assistant Speaker: A California based home healthcare provider recently programmed Alexa to help residents connect with caregivers, set medicine reminders, report vitals, and schedule appointments. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, Alexa can also track blood glucose levels, symptoms, prescription deliveries and appointments, and is even becoming HIPAA compliant to help transmit patient data and records

Amazon Alexa & Echo can be used to listen to music, radio, check the weather, and news. Seniors can also give Alexa simple commands for chores (e.g., “Alexa, turn on the lights!”,  although this requires more programming and can works with sensor empowered lights.

Fall Detection Watches: Watches with “smart” alert buttons empower seniors to seek help ASAP if they fall or get injured. It should, however, be noted that these watches don’t always prevent the falls from occurring. Certain smart watch brands may also include medicine reminder alerts to avoid medicine errors among individuals with cognitive impairments.

Example: UnaliWear offers 3-in-one fall prevention, modification reminder, and wandering prevention. This brand has a built-in battery system that doesn’t require removal to charge compared to smartphone based devices. It also has AI-based sensors to analyze user location patterns and provide predictive support, which helps prevent future wandering and accidents. An accelerometer detects falls in real time, immediately warning caregivers, which some seniors may find more convenient than pressing a button

Smart Pill Bottles and Boxes: Deaths from medicine errors are an  epidemic, both intentional and unintentional. Fortunately, IoT enabled pillboxes and bottles log time and dosage taken, which prevents seniors with memory impairments from underdosing and overdosing. Some older adults may even use sensor-based medicine dispensers to live at home longer so they don’t have to hire caretakers to administer their medicines.

Example: MedElert is a battery operated dispenser that alerts seniors (or their caregivers) when it’s time to take their pills to prevent under dose, and time recording and lock feature to prevent overdose. Once medicine is taken, time stamps are recorded with times and dates, and these records are still retained even upon replacing batteries.  The lock automatically enacts once the sensors detect that pills have been taken. Though small and easy to carry, MedElert has 28 compartments to hold up to 19 aspirin sized pills.