Senate Says Technology Provides Seniors the Option for Independent Living

Oct 8, 2015, 17:14 PM by User Not Found
blog-senate-talks-tech-for-senior-independent-livingAmericans from the age of 85 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population, and 90 percent of Baby Boomers have one or more chronic health conditions. Meanwhile, the number of professional and familial caregivers is in decline.

On one hand, it's disturbing to think of a population so in need of support being unable to obtain help. On the other hand, we live in a time when technology is stepping up to help senior citizens continue to live independently for longer.

A recent Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing, Aging in Place: Can Advancements in Technology Help Seniors Live Independently , examined how developments in the technology sphere are playing an increasingly larger role in elder care. Technology for seniors like electronic bed and pillbox sensors, wearable medical alert devices, and innovations like telehealth are making it possible for seniors to live at home longer. Surveys conducted by AARP consistently reflect that 87 percent of people ages 65 and up would prefer to "age in place" instead of a care facility, if given the choice.

Senator Claire McCaskill, the ranking member of the committee, outlined some of the benefits of tech designed for senior independent living in her opening statement. "This really is a win-win situation," she said. "Seniors are much happier continuing their normal routines and social activities where they feel comfortable, family members can make sure their loved ones are safe, and society as a whole benefits from significantly reduced healthcare and long-term care costs."

Although technology can’t replace physical care, it is a great addition. “While it isn’t a replacement for professional care or personal attention from family members, technology can help to bridge the care gap and extend the amount and length of time a person is able to live independently,” said Senator Susan Collins, Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee.

The hearing featured testimony from Aging In Place Technology Watch lead Laurie Orlov, VA Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer Maureen McCarthy, Marjorie Skubic from the University of Missouri, and Carol Kim from the University of Maine, as well as Charles Strickler, who spoke as a caregiver of an aging parent.

Many of the innovations discussed by the panel are still being studied or are experimental, such as pilot programs featuring Microsoft's Kinect cameras, and augmented reality, but Senator Collins specifically referenced Jitterbug and its cell phones for seniors as working technology that is currently supporting independent living.

One key to boosting adoption of technology for seniors, like the Jitterbug phone, is making it opt-in. According to Senator Collins, seniors don't just want any tech, but rather they want technology and devices similar to those being used by their children and grandchildren.

During the hearing, Senator Collins specifically referenced the ease of use of GreatCall’s original Jitterbug, which has features like large buttons, a bright screen, powerful speakers, and an easy-to-use interface. The phone also has a one-touch urgent response button that instantly connects users to a 5Star Medical Alert Agent to provide immediate help if there is a safety concern. The more recent Jitterbug Touch for example, comes ready to text, browse the web and take pictures, and has built-in apps that reminds user to take their medication, receive access to emergency operators and provide caregivers with information about the user's safety and well-being. Both devices serve as networks of health and safety experts and are equipped with a long-lasting battery, with some Jitterbug phones having up to 25 days of standby time, which is great for users who may forget to charge their phones regularly.

There are many great technology devices out there for seniors, but opting in may be more important than people realize. While emergency response pendants have existed for some time, they're not meeting independent senior's needs the way they were designed to and not only because of notable malfunctions. Many seniors, including Strickler's mother-in-law, don't want to wear an obvious emergency device. But the number of individuals age 65+ with smartphones like the Jitterbug Touch is growing rapidly and the capabilities of smart wearables and smart home systems are expanding every day.

Devices that are popular among all ages throughout the world are now being repackaged to be more user-friendly and more helpful for an older audience. That means aging in place is now an option for many seniors thanks to new advancements in lifesaving technology.