My dear child, would you mind speaking to the operator on my behalf?
Spending time with grandparents is a lot of fun. They share a lot of untold stories about the past, embarrassing stories about parents (who still like to parade as serious adults with everything to know about life in front of their kids). Of course grandmas have the best recipe for strawberry jam and sponge-cake, and grandpas have a waste knowledge of football and grumble every now and then about why it is not compulsory anymore for young boys to join the army.
And from time to time, you find yourself trying to talk louder to them as they cannot hear well. You find yourself repeating stories as they do not understand everything you tell them at once. You walk slower when you are around, and they often ask you to get things done for them. For example, it is a nightmare for them to arrange problems with their phone bills on the phone because up until you reach an operator, you have to press a gazillion of buttons in a specific order.
They live surrounded with 21st century technology in a fast-paced, fast-changing world, which more often than not does not take their perspectives, their needs and their characteristics into account. I believe it should change. The world should not only revolve around the young. The elderly are the fastest growing age group in the developed countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two billion people will be over the age of 60 by 2050.
Technology outpaced them, but it does not mean that it should not help them live a better life. Lately, more and more start-ups and companies discover that the elderly have their special needs and it is worth attending to their wishes.
Let me show you the available healthcare technologies which could make the life of every elderly better.
1) Technology helping with eventual falls
As our cells are ageing with us, healing takes a lot more time when you grow old. A lot of seniors have the fear that if they fall, the recovery will take a long time and they will not be able to move around as before. It can result in a lack of mobility, causing depression and other serious conditions that can put the patient in a downward spiral.
91-year-old Barbara Beskind, product designer told The Wall Street Journal it would be great to design airbags against fracturing the hip during a potential fall. Unfortunately, it does not exist yet, but there might be other means to help.
The TASK Fall Detector, a waterproof, hypoallergenic, watch-like wearable automatically detects, when the person wearing it falls on the ground. The user can press its integrated panic button in an emergency situation to send a message that someone should get some help. WalkJoy is another company offering help to solve this problem. Its non-invasive technology aids in the restoration of gait and balance for people with peripheral neuropathy. Devices are attached to the knees to re-establish a signal, telling the brain that the heel just struck the ground. The brain’s central nervous system incorporates the new signal from the device, and the motor system responds as if there is no loss of sensation in the foot, thereby returning the person to a normal gait.
2) Support for better physical activity and walking
In any case, physical fitness and healthy daily movement are critical to healthy aging. Even if you have a good balance, you might want to keep it up for a long time. That’s what RespondWell is offering. It uses a Kinect sensor to help understand a person’s physical limitations and connect them with a therapist who can then create an individualized physical fitness plan. The plan is then plugged into RespondWell, where an avatar helps the patient follow along and determine progress. It sends feedback to the designated therapist, so he or she can monitor progress and make changes to the plan accordingly.
When I visited some of my elder relatives, I also noticed how difficult it is for them to admit that they need some help while walking. They also often refuse walking frames because somehow they have the impression it stigmatizes them. Beskind also said that it would be great to have designed dynamic walkers, because regular walkers encourage poor posture and balance issues.
3) Devices for sensing the world better
When you grow old, your sense of hearing and seeing deteriorates gradually. You might had that experience as well, when your grandma or grandpa turned up the volume of the television. Next time you might suggest them to buy TV Ears, which helps people with hearing loss hear the television clearly without turning up the volume.
Beskind also suggested that it would be high time to design high-tech glasses with a camera or a photo-identity [feature] for people who are approaching, maybe coupled with a voice-recognition technology. These are certainly awesome ideas, but until you get those, it is worth getting familiar with the existing technologies – phones with huge buttons and volume regulators might be only the first step. How about using a picture press home phone, which allows for speed dial for four people using their photos. The MP3341 Man Down mobile phone app provides a potential lifeline for seniors. It can store up to five contact numbers for instant dialing in case of emergency.
The 91-year-old designer also mentioned it would be great to have phones which would slow down messages. I believe that function might come in handy not only for the elderly but for everyone in a foreign country not yet possessing the full capacity to speak the language.
4) Tricks to keep the brain active and to help remembering things
Do you often search for your key before leaving? Do you sometimes wonder whether you left the window open or put your wallet in the drawer? Perhaps you should also think about buying the Click ‘N Dig object locator, try it out and then suggest it to your senior relatives. It comes with 6 receivers that can be affixed to important objects such as house keys plus a transmitter which is used to help locate the items themselves. Be scared, those constantly disappearing car keys and glasses, we’re going to find you!
You might also find that the amount of pills and medication you have to take grows exponentially with age. Tabsafe medication manager was developed to help you keep up with your medication regime. It dispenses all the pills and drugs based on an automated schedule. Pill Reminder Pro might be of great help, too. If you use a smartphone, you only need to download the app, and once you enter the name of the pill, how many to take and when, the app will remind your parent to take the right pills at the right time with a message.
People with Alzheimer’s and seniors with memory losses tend to forget where their home is and sometimes they wander off from places they are supposed to be. A company called GTX Corp developed smart shoes with which patients can find the way home and they can orientate quite easily while walking around the street. With the help of Buddi, a smart wearable, a ‘safe zone’, an area that is trusted enough for an elderly person to travel within comfortably, can be established so that if the person travels outside the zone, caregivers are alerted.
5) Dress up and eat like a pro
People usually hate the idea that they need another person’s help with such basic tasks as dressing up, walking or eating. Unfortunately, with some diseases or after certain injuries you might experience how awful it feels when you cannot use your body as before. It rives your independence and freedom from you, and you would do anything to get it back. Elderly tend to have the same feeling.
This is exactly the reason behind The Wright Stuff, which offers a range of products that makes dressing up easier for anyone who cannot use of one of their hands. The company has Dressing Sticks, one-handed belt, sock aids, they even one-handed nail clippers for people.
For many elderly people and patients with hand tremor, eating is torture. They lift their hands, but the food falls out of the spoon, and at the end of the meal they will be just as hungry as they started. The Liftware stabilizing handle might mean salvation for them. The smart utensil stabilizes hand motion, and enables the hand to shake 70 per cent less. Besides, the utensil comes with soup as well as fork attachment to broaden the horizon of meals.
6) Healthcare wearables and telemedicine for fewer visits at the doctor’s office
For elderly, getting to the doctor’s office is often a difficult, energy- and time-consuming activity by itself. Some of them would otherwise never leave the area where they live. Or they do not drive anymore due to their age, so they have to ask for someone’s help to get to the hospital or to the GP. Or they know that they walk slower in the rush-hours than the world around them. So, it is also a mentally burdening activity, since they usually are not that confident anymore in public spaces.
Healthcare wearables such as Withings Blood Pressure monitor, the AliveCore Heart Monitor, the Fitbit Aria for measureing weight, Viatom Checkme for tracing ECG, measuring pulse rate and rhythm, oxygen saturation, systolic blood pressure, physical activity and sleep might help elderly gather data about their organism, and send it directly to the doctor’s office. Thus, they would not need to travel there for check-ups, but only if there is a serious problem.
MC10 develops a Biostamp that is thinner than a Band-Aid, and it has the size of just two postage stamps. You can attach it to any part of the body. The sensors monitor temperature, movements, heart rate, and all these vital signs which can be transmitted wirelessly to an application. In the future, these biostamps might mean the solution to all the data-problems, medical professionals might have today.
Intouch health and its telehealth network could also help manage diseases for the elderly. Through its waste network, patients in remote areas or not able to travel have access to high-quality emergency consultations for stroke, cardiovascular, and burn services in the exact time they need it. Another device called Canary might also offer remote help. Its monitoring system enables caregivers to keep an eye on elderly people living elsewhere.
7) Relatives do not have to worry about their loved ones anymore
In many families, it causes a great deal of stress, when the parents, grandparents or beloved older relatives live alone in another town. What if something happens to them and the family is not around?
There are already many devices which offer help. Using Lively, small sensors are placed on objects within the home – such as prescription pill bottles or the refrigerator – to detect when the resident is taking medications, getting food, or leaving home. The sensors send activity signals to Lively’s website (no Internet or Wi-Fi connection required), where family members and caregivers can access the data to monitor. Independa, a software company, provides supportive independence products and services to older adults and their caregivers who typically are remote some or all of the time.
Guardian offers the Virtually There Care camera monitoring system. It allows family members to check in on their loved ones living independently via remove camera viewing and audible communication. This decreases the need for paid caregivers and daily check-ins. It lowers home care costs in assisted living or nursing placement, and extends independence.
But how does it feel like to grow old?
I believe that technology cannot change your way of life or your way of thinking. Technology is only there to offer help. In relation to our seniors, I think what we need the most is empathy. To have a sense of understanding what they are going through, what they are experiencing. It is especially critical for medical professionals.
Did you ever wonder how it feels like to grow old? How it feels like to not be able to lift your hand above your head? How it feels like when you’ve lost one of your fingers, or recover from a heart attack? Embodied Labs created “We Are Alfred” by using VR technology to show young medical students what ageing means. Everyone can be the hypothetical Alfred for 7 minutes. Everyone can experience how it feels like to live as a 74 year-old man with audio-visual impairments.
I think we need more projects like that and we need to offer a helping hand to our senior friends, relatives with empathy coupled with our technological knowledge or gadgets. Since we are all hopeful to reach a certain age, and I am sure we would like to be treated just as nicely by our kids, grandkids and the younger generation in general.