From Touchless Faucets To Voicecontrolled Lights, Technology Is Making It Possible To Age In Place

From Touchless Faucets To Voicecontrolled Lights, Technology Is Making It Possible To Age In Place

Mel Washburn is a former firefighter, teacher, and judge. Whether it was putting out a fire in a building, a classroom or a courtroom, after his retirement he realized that 90% of his social life revolved around work.

Washburn, 77, knew he had to find a way to communicate in retirement. Washburn also knew he and his wife Pam, 75, wanted to continue living independently in their home.

He quickly realized that technology could play an important role in achieving both of these goals.

The Washburns, the original members of Village Chicago, a membership-based organization dedicated to connecting and improving the quality of life for Chicagoans 50+, are now connecting in person and through Zoom events. And they rely on technology to maintain a safe home environment.

The Washburns are part of a growing population. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2050 more than 2 billion people will be aged 60 or older. The US is also changing. According to Rodney Harrell, AARP vice president for family, home and community affairs, “By 2034, for the first time ever, we will have more people over 50 than under 18.” Illinois, where 16.6% of people are over 65, is educating there is no exception.

"Most people want to stay in their own homes as they age," Harrell said. And technology is increasingly making it possible, from touchless faucets to voice-activated lightbulbs.

However, as Harrell points out, only 1% of households have the features people need to age.

Felice Eckhaus, founder of Elderspaces, a Chicago-based company that helps clients design and modify homes to be age-appropriate, blames the gap on design that hasn't adapted much since World War II. "It's a broken yin and yang. We need an area where we don't update before we get to gadgets," Eckhouse said.

But Harrell sees the potential for technology to bridge that gap. “What we are focused on [at AARP] are changes that can be made at home, regardless of health status. "Technology can't do everything, but it plays a big role," he said.

Even at home, says Eckhaus, "smartphones power many digital assets, from hearing aids to security systems, lighting systems, front doors and kitchen appliances."

Smartphones provide basic support for everyday tasks and communication.

“I still use technology in the usual way. If I need to research something, I research online," said Mel Washburn. "I would be very bored without my phone: messages, books, calls."

His wife Pam, who lives with multiple sclerosis, relies on her cell phone for daily communication.

beginning

Finding technological solutions for people living in poorly adapted housing can be a chicken and egg problem. In fact, many technologies require high-speed Internet access, which isn't universal, said Laurie Orlow, senior analyst at industry research firm Aging and Health Technology Watch.

However, once the online service is up and running, according to Orlov, a wide range of tools such as voice technology, motion detection cameras and sensors can be used to "identify a potential problem for predictive analytics and make the world as safe as possible."

But not everyone is tech-savvy.

Mel Washburn remembers tape recorders and secretarial pools, but he's also seen the technology evolve during his 28 years as a partner at a major law firm. Not everyone feels comfortable using new devices.

Orlov challenges the misconception that baby boomers are more tech-savvy than their predecessors. While they've developed a certain level of comfort, baby boomers want to keep what they have as the forces in the tech industry shift. Telephones are the best example.

"Most people don't update their phones as fast as the updates come out," Orlov said. Ultimately, this leads to older, disconnected devices, such as B. Phones that used to work on 3G networks but no longer on 5G. As a result, "baby boomers will be (just as frustrated as the previous generation)," he said.

There is no universal solution

However, whether it's the Illinois Department of Aging's free tablets or the Chicago Village Film Club's use of Zoom, technology can help seniors age in more ways than one.

"Technology has a lot of potential to improve functionality in the home and fill some of the gaps," Harrell said. Technology isn't limited to touchless faucets, activity monitors, and acoustic lights to solve vision problems and prevent falls. "There are new sensor technologies that understand behavior, like when someone gets out of bed," Harrell said.

Even Alexa can be used for more than just turning on the lights, says Jim Rosenthal, CEO of Caring.com, a free resource for seniors and their families. "With cameras and microphones and being able to see everything that's going on and knowing that the parents are okay, it can go a lot further."

Technology doesn't have to be complicated either. Patricia Greenberg, owner of Fitness Gourmet and author of Eat Well, Live Well, Age Well, said she likes apps like Noom and MyFitnessPal that help seniors manage their personal diet and exercise. This is another way technology can help seniors lead healthy, independent lives.

What works for one person may not work for another. In some cases, "technology isn't always the best solution," says Caring.com's Rosenthal.

"The challenge we face now," says IATP CEO Willy Guenther, "is getting older people informed about what's possible, and to do it as quickly as possible, before it becomes an emergency."

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