High-tech home care
An aging population opting to stay at home is generating new solutions and technology. In the US alone, the market for technology to help seniors age in place will be 20 billion dollars by 2020, according to the Aging in Place Technology Watch.
The huge wave of baby boomers is hitting retirement and people are living longer. This is changing the demographics in many parts of the world.
The majority of older people want to remain at home for as long as possible, as an AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) study confirms: Eighty percent of those over 45 say they want to remain in their own homes even when they need assistance.
Eighty percent of those over 45 say they want to remain in their own homes even when they need assistance.
With an already economically strapped healthcare system, governments are quite happy to encourage home care rather than invest in more costly long-term facilities. But keeping people at home requires an investment in tools, technology and designs to help support the elderly and their homecare providers.
Design for all ages
This “Aging in Place” trend is putting pressure on builders and designers to equip homes with features that assist the elderly. “Many older people live in homes that were not built for them to age in,” says John Migliaccio, director of Research and Gerontology for the Metlife Mature Market Institute. “They live in homes that were designed to raise families in and so there is a disconnect there. Homes have not kept pace with the changing needs.”
Migliaccio sees a growing acceptance among builders and designers towards universal design that ensures low physical effort and easy and unencumbered transit, enabling people to adapt their homes as they age. Building walk-in showers, grab bars, easy access entryways or putting levers on doors instead of knobs make it easier for older people to cope.
“Medical conditions like arthritis are more frequent among the elderly and levers or keyless entry makes it easier to move from room to room,” Migliaccio points out. “Keycards are migrating from institutions, businesses and hotels to the residential level along with entry monitoring which makes it easier for care givers to access homes as well. If you design something that is better for older people, it becomes better and more livable for everyone, regardless of age.”
A 2009 Metlife study, conducted with consumers over 55, found that when it came to the home, high-speed Internet access was the most important issue for 83 percent of respondents. Home security was the second most important issue for 55 percent of respondents.
“New technology is not a barrier for the elderly.”
“Having an intercom at the entrance, home automation or a video entrance phone are just some of the security technologies which [the people surveyed] are aware of – and they want these things,” says Migliaccio. “New technology is not a barrier for the elderly.”
High-speed Internet access becomes extremely critical when services such as telehealth are installed, with doctors or nurses remotely monitoring an elderly person’s blood pressure, pulse or medication. Internet access is also critical for “Smart Home” technology which is also playing a role in supporting security, safety and aging comfortably at home. Windows, locks and lighting can all be automated or controlled remotely to help residents who have physical limitations.
Such solutions require a continuous stream of energy and Migliaccio says that having a back-up power source at home is becoming increasingly important especially for the elderly.
Linear manufactures support and safety solutions for elderly people in the home including Personal Emergency Reporting Systems (PERS). By pressing a button on a transmitter which is usually on a pendant or wristband, the user can instantly communicate with a central station for emergency help.
Chuck Stevens, vice president Health Business Unit, says the company is selling an increasing number of these units every year. Linear has plans to add predictive and analytic capabilities to the PERS that can, for example, provide remote information about respiration and pulse rate or blood and glucose levels, as well as other information that nurses and doctors can use for diagnostic purposes.
Passive alert monitors, such as Linear’s Passive Infrared Detector, monitor motion to predict client action. Stevens explains: “The infrared paths recognize patterns in how the person is moving and these daily habits can be accumulated over a certain period of time and then used to predict the actions of clients. If there is a break in that pattern, a care giver can react to it and contact the individual to see if they are okay. That way you have an additional layer of protection on personal safety.”
“If we can help keep someone at home for another couple of years or so, we will save the client and family thousands of dollars a month in potential care costs.”
Families and care givers can also check on the elderly through security management systems that combine video solutions with motion detectors. But Stevens says that the high cost of CCTV systems and the intrusive nature of cameras are deterrents. “It’s a privacy issue,” he says. “Even though that camera doesn’t go on until an alarm generates it, people are still wary of cameras and the big brother implications.”
Still, he sees “a growing reliance on technology and more smart technology to help keep people in their homes,” adding: “If we can help keep someone at home for another couple of years or so, we will save the client and family thousands of dollars a month in potential care costs.”
At Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, researchers on the Twendy-One project are developing robots that will help the Japanese cope with a shortage of care givers for their growing elderly population. “In an aging society with a declining birthrate, it is helpful for us to have human-assisting machines including human symbiotic robots in welfare facilities, hospitals, public facilities, manufacturing factories, and homes,” says Shigeki Sugano, a professor in the Modern Mechanical Engineering department.
The robots are being designed to help with daily activities such as fetching items or assisting someone getting out of bed. Sugano makes it clear that the researchers’ goal is not to replace humans with robots, but rather to assist people who are taking care of the elderly.
“There are all kinds of new electronics out there and as technology becomes ubiquitous, we expect it in our homes too. We can put a robot on Mars; now we want it in the living room.”
“The most important thing is how to adapt to the individuals when assisting humans. Everyone has a different physical and mental condition and when a robot supports a human being, it has to understand that condition.” Sugano believes they can achieve this.
John Migliaccio acknowledges the potential with such technology: “Japan, with its large elderly population is a good country to track in terms of their advances,” he says. “There are all kinds of new electronics out there and as technology becomes ubiquitous, we expect it in our homes too. We can put a robot on Mars; now we want it in the living room.”
By Cari Simmons