Technology: Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. But for many, it is technology that may be the key to delaying entrance into assisted living homes and skilled nursing facilities. According to an article published on KansasCity.com, technological advances are proving to be crucial in providing safe and healthy living environments for senior citizens.
In Portland, Oregon, 480 seniors are involved in a pilot project that outfits their homes with computer systems and accessories designed to help monitor their health and well being. With the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 this year, technology companies are racing to develop programs that will help facilitate independent living well into the golden years.
"This is a race to see who's going to invent 21st century care services for boomers," said Eric Dishman, health policy director at Intel-GE Care Innovations, a joint venture that Intel formed this year with General Electric Co. "Worldwide, there's this enormous market opportunity." With big guns like Intel and GE leading the way, it won’t be long before scientific visions are reality.
Already seeing the features of such innovations is Dorothy Rutherford. At 86, she is participating in the studies being conducted by the Oregon Center for Aging & Technology at the Oregon Health and Science University. With partial funding by Intel Corp, Dorothy’s home has been outfitted with advanced monitoring devices that measure everything from her walking speed to how often she opens the refrigerator. She's even allowed her granddaughter remote access to a video robot. The robot could be moved via remote control throughout Dorothy’s apartment, allowing her granddaughter to visually check on her.
The downside to such programs is multifaceted. There is lack of awareness that this is even a possibility for many seniors living on their own; most are unaware such services exist until they find themselves struggling to maintain their health and safety independently. The cost is also an issue for many as neither Medicare or Medicaid are paying or the cost of the sensors or the monthly fees for monitoring services. There may also be hesitation by many as they feel it is an invasion of privacy or that “big brother” is watching.
For many families, the miles between them and their aging loved one often adds stress to an already stressful situation. With enhancement to video phones and robotic monitoring, the miles will not be such hindrance. However, this may also lead to unintended consequences. "This technology has the potential to isolate people as well as connect people because it has the potential to replace (human) contact," said Tamara Hayes, senior researcher at the Oregon Tech Lab.“But used properly," she added, "it enhances relationships because it lets you use your energy thinking about the things that matter rather than, 'Did Mom get up and take her pills?' "
Although the objective is to keep seniors living as independently as possible, such systems may also be advantageous for continuing care communities and assisted living facilities. Many facilities encourage their residents to do as much as they can on their own with the goal of delaying placement into nursing homes. By helping families stay connected and involved and by more closely monitoring activities of daily living, medical interventions or rehabilitation can be initiated sooner, thus preventing a more dire situation.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the potentials of this type of technology. With companies banking on the baby boomers to spend their hard earned money on aging in place, it is inevitable that more is to come.
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