In an Increasingly Technological World, the Senior Living Industry is Keeping Pace

This article is based on the nine part special “Aging in America: Perspectives From the Psychological Science” published in May/June 2016 by American Psychologist.

Senior Living and Technology:

America’s senior population is reaching record highs. According to the US Administration on Aging, citizens 65 years or older will total roughly 80 million, representing 21% of our population by 2040. Of this swelling group, those age 85 or above are expected to reach nearly 14.1 million, making it the fastest growing senior cohort. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated 70% of people turning age 65 can expect to use long-term care during their lives. Despite this massive demand, Sara J. Czaja, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, found one of the biggest problems facing America’s senior population is access to long-term care. By improving the the technology resources available for the long-term care industry, Czaja anticipates improved access.

Long-term care refers to a range of services and supports aging adults may need to meet their personal care needs. Most long-term care is not medical care, but rather assistance with the basic personal tasks of everyday life.

Availability of long-term care is of particular importance to the 37% of women and 19% of men over the age of 65 living alone (US Administration on Aging). A recent examination of 70 different studies on loneliness and isolation clearly demonstrated that socialization leads to increased wellness and life expectancy, making social isolation a serious threat to our seniors.

Focused on fostering interaction, collaboration and creativity, the senior living industry is redefining the concept of home for the elderly. The senior living industry consists of care facilities including Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care and Skilled Nursing Care. The healthcare landscape is evolving, moving health care responsibilities once performed by a healthcare professional to the home and into hands of patients and caregivers.

Where does technology fit in long term care?

Technology is becoming increasingly relevant to America’s senior population. This new technology is available on computers, smartphones, tablets, and even wearables. Through it, we can monitor medication, assist in disease management, track our loved one’s functional and cognitive status, improve safety, facilitate access to care and aid, and improve communication.

Each year, roughly 2.5 million Americans over age 65 are treated in an emergency room for fall injuries. Of those, less than half inform their healthcare provider, risking broken bones, brain injury or worsening preexisting conditions. Fall-detection or emergency response technology reduces these risks, giving elders and their caregivers peace of mind even if they are miles apart.

Wearable technology and integrated activity trackers are also on the rise. Non-obtrusive sensors, watches, or other smart clothing can monitor daily behavior such as movement trackers, sleep patterns, and other health indicators to keep health care professionals and family members in the loop. Ultimately, this helps give patients the upper hand in predicting and conquering health complications.

In a recent study examining a state-of-the-art home telehealth system, 92% of senior participants felt the system was easy to navigate. Telemedicine makes physical and psychological support instantly available, improving access to treatments despite location, illness, or mobility.

Technology can help caregivers too!

Technology poses perhaps the greatest opportunity to connect families and loved ones. As families scatter across the globe, video chatting applications and camera-equipped smartphones bring loved ones close together. With the simple push of a button, no distance is too far to see the faces of friends and family.

Many caregivers also use the internet to find information related to caregiving, whether it be about caregiving activities, treatments, interventions or supportive services. Caregivers also use technology platforms, like LivingPath, to help navigate the universe of senior living options, which can feel like a maze.

What stands in the way?

Technologies like telepsychology need more time and testing before hitting the popular market in order to be most effective, reliable, and efficient. Nevertheless, the greatest challenge technology faces is the user.

In the US alone, about 58% of seniors use the internet. A recent study on the usability of health applications installed on iPads found that most participants over the age of 50 felt that they would be able to use the application with training and practice, despite initial difficulty. Caregivers are also hesitant to embrace technology, hindered by the perceived expense and complexity of new technology, concerns about privacy, and the belief that technology doesn’t consider caregivers’ needs.

Technology poses incredible opportunities for the aging population. Inspired by the Institute of Medicine’s definition of patient-centered care, new technologies strive to be “respectful and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.”

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