By Michelle Seitzer
From Alexa-powered robots to concept cars, the recently held 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was full of exciting—and, of course, expensive—tech innovations (case in point: a $4,999 computer monitor).
In his CES review, Forbes writer Brad Auerbach says artificial intelligence, voice recognition, virtual reality, and the internet of things (IoT) are converging in big ways and will change how we interact 24/7. As he puts it, “…we are yet again in a brave new world."
Yes, privacy is still a concern, but our brave new world doesn't have to be a frightening one if we use advancing tech to better meet the needs of a population advancing in age. Let's explore the CES top tech trends and tools that could make aging a better experience for all:
Virtual reality: Many of the VR technologies unveiled at CES were entertainment-related, but some companies, like Embodied Labs, are continuing to harness the power of virtual reality in teaching empathy for older adults. Through their Alfred system, medical students get to experience what older adults living with macular degeneration and hearing loss do. Can you imagine having a doctor and caregivers who better understood what life looks like through your eyes and ears?
Voice recognition: Alexa, Alexa, Alexa. You don't have to type, just tell her what you need. From applications in medication management and telehealth, to communication tools and smart home sensors, advances in this field can certainly serve tomorrow's seniors well. And advances are most definitely on their way: In a recent US News article covering CES, Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association, said voice-activated systems are "expected to double to 10 million in 2017."
Artificial intelligence: Soon, almost every home will have a virtual assistant, purports this DigitalTrends review of CES—and affordable models like Amazon's aforementioned Alexa and Google's Home make this AI technology accessible to the masses. Robots are no longer a future possibility for the wealthy only, but a present reality that can support the work of long-distance caregivers and give seniors the independence they want. (And as Alexa shows us, they don't have to look like the Jetson's Rosie either.)
Another example of AI taking aging in place to the next level? The WHILL Intelligent Electric Vehicle, a wheelchair (available to own or rent) that drives more like a vehicle (better equipped to handle rough outdoor terrain and tight indoor spaces) and leaves decades-old power wheelchairs and scooters in the dust, per Laurie Orlov, a prominent age-in-place tech expert.
Internet of Things (IoT): It won't be long before even your refrigerator is connected to the internet. Big brother may be watching, but if your long-distance caregiver is too, this could be a win for seniors who want to live independently for longer. Laurie Orlov reviews two relevant home security innovations: the Floodlight Cam by Ring and the Blink Outdoor Camera, both of which are not reliant upon an app for monitoring and managing.
Voice-activated item tracking devices offer value for persons with memory loss living alone at home, but they can also be used to track missing pets and people. Orlov recommends the Chipolo Item Tracker.
Also introduced at CES 2017: Snoo, the world's first smart crib. Think of the possibilities such intimately placed sensors, tracking, and data capture could offer for older adults experiencing sleep disturbances related to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or other diseases? (GreatCall recently acquired a company called Healthsense, which uses remote monitoring technology to collect and analyze information about every day activities, to ultimately provide better care for older adults.)
Today's Tools: Embracing the Future That's Already Here
Anytime you can put more control and autonomy at a senior's fingertips, it's a victory not only for the individual but also for his/her family, care, community, and social circles.
The availability of better tablets and mobile devices at a lower price point means more older adults can independently communicate with grandchildren, track their daily health status through apps or wearable devices, contact their doctors or make appointments via an electronic health record (EHR), report a fall and get immediate help, tap into the healing power of music, and so much more.
Smart canes and new wheelchair accessories empower physical independence, support mobility, and track falls or problem spots in the home. TechCrunch highlights the Dring Smart Cane and Gaspard, a thin pad with pressure sensors for wheelchair users, among other items. And, not to be confused with wearables, hearables, or PSAPs (personal sound amplification products) made an appearance at several CES exhibits, offering a new level of sound amplification to benefit individuals with hearing loss.
Are you ready for the brave new world of caregiving innovations? I know I am.
Talk back: What tech tools—existing or still to be created—would help you as a caregiver or older adult most?