WIRED FOR AGING
Boomers set to be the next technopop -- and mom
By Chandra Orr
Copley News Service
As tech-savvy baby boomers head into retirement, state-of-the-art advances for the home will make it easier than ever for seniors to age in place.
"People want to remain in their own homes, in a familiar environment. They don't want to transition to a nursing home or assisted-living facility," said Majd Alwan, director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies, a coalition of more than 400 technology companies, aging-services organizations, research universities and government representatives working to improve the aging experience through technology.
Advances in home security systems, health monitoring systems and devices to regulate household temperatures, lights and appliances will soon be the norm - and for good reason. They have the power to prolong the need for assisted living, cut elder-care costs and streamline medical treatment.
"The ground is fertile for the use of care-giving technology to flourish," said Elinor Ginzler, AARP senior vice president for livable communities. "Almost nine in 10 older Americans want to be able to stay in their own homes, and they are willing to use technology that can help them do that."
From embedded sensors that assess an individual's health status from home to computer programs that test memory and boost brain fitness, a new crop of technologies aim to improve the quality of life for the aging and their caregivers.
"Retirees are going to lead a more enriched aging experience and a more fulfilling life as a result of technology," Alwan said. "Technology can create a new paradigm for caring for elders and consumers should be as aware of these options as they are aware of their cell phone plans or cable television offerings."
Telemedicine aims to move health care out of the doctor's office and into the home.
In the not-too-distant future, retirees will see homes equipped with integrated motion and location sensors, vital-signs monitoring, blood and imaging diagnostic systems and automated medication dispensers that provide the right amount of medicine at the right time.
In-home monitoring systems will measure blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, blood glucose levels and more. Smart software programs will analyze the data and automatically relay information to doctors, hospitals and care providers. This real-time monitoring and quick exchange of information will eliminate many routine doctors' visits and prevent hospitalizations by keeping chronic illnesses in check and providing earlier diagnoses of life-threatening conditions.
Among the products primed to hit the market are beds capable of picking up heart rate, breathing rate and sleep patterns, and chairs that measure vital signs and signal caregivers if the person does not move within a specified time.
Entertainment with therapeutic benefits - or therapeutainment - promises enjoyable exercises to enrich the mind, bolster the body and promote engagement.
Games like Nintendo's "Brain Age" series are already a big hit with the boomer generation and beyond. And the Nintendo Wii - in particular games like "Wii Fit" - are being used in senior centers and physical therapy to help an aging population stay active, maintain a wide range of motion and functional abilities, and stay sharp mentally.
In the near future, touch-screen computers and phone handsets will automatically test memory skills and diagnostic computer games will offer mental stimulation while monitoring cognitive abilities.
Look for a proliferation in Internet gaming, online social networking and virtual communities targeted to the 55-and-older crowd, as well as senior-friendly cell phones, Web portal systems and video phones with simple, intuitive interfaces, larger fonts and quick-access buttons.
Hand-held panic buttons and senior-friendly monitoring systems already exist. Alarm.com, for example, offers a Web-based monitoring program that alerts family members and caregivers to unusual patterns of activity or environmental dangers. The system detects extended periods of inactivity and unusual amounts of activity during odd times of the day - situations that may indicate and emergency. It also monitors for fire, carbon monoxide and unsafe temperatures.
Soon monitoring systems will incorporate floors that assess gait, stride and walking velocity to detect shuffling, limping or other physical declines that may be precursors to a fall, systems to monitor stove usage and turn the stove off if forgotten, and Global Positioning System-based wander management systems for seniors suffering from memory loss.
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