Technology Makes It Easier (and Safer) to Age in Place
Digital advances may help your loved ones remain in their home while retaining a higher level of independence.
Home feels comfortable. Cozy. Happy. No wonder most people want to stay put in retirement.
As people age, however, it’s not uncommon to need a little more help in everyday activities. For your peace of mind, and theirs, certain advances in smart tech may help those you love comfortably age in place – safely – and perhaps, just as importantly, independently.
Not only are devices now Wi-Fi-enabled, remotely accessed and schedulable, but many are smart and equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) technology that learns your habits and predicts your preferences. They can sense when something’s not right and automatically turn on, off or adjust settings.
From getting groceries to managing medication – and everything in between – here’s how intelligent technology (powered with AI) can help with everyday tasks.
Whatcha got cookin’?
Smart refrigerators can be the epicenter of a home – displaying calendars, playing music and showing recipes. And they can do much more. If expiration dates on food become hard to see, these refrigerators can send an alert if the milk goes sour. If you’re at the grocery store with your mom but can’t remember if she needs eggs, you can ask the fridge from afar. (It knows the contents and can show you a picture!) Couple that with a garbage can that scans barcodes as items are thrown away and automatically adds them to the grocery list. And once the pantry’s stocked, a stove that connects to Wi-Fi so family can make sure it’s off and an induction cooktop that stays cool to the touch – ideal safety characteristics. Simple but impactful features like automatic lights turning on above the stove when a burner comes on can make life easier, too.
Guiding the way
Flooring that can sense a fall? Sounds too good to be true. A magic carpet, if you will. But there are floor sensors that can be installed under decorative flooring that alert for help in the case of a fall. Fall prevention measures, though, will put your mind at ease even more. Smart lights that sense movement can illuminate a pathway. Lights can brighten depending on the time of day – so they don’t blind someone in the middle of the night – or based on other light nearby, and they can even start to learn habits and automatically (no scheduling needed!) come on during those times.
Managing medication – properly
There’s facial recognition for something more important than Facebook: medication. A smart drug-dispensing system can dole out medication at precise times throughout the day to ensure diligent adherence to doctor’s orders. The complementary caregiver app also asks loved ones questions like “How are you feeling?” and provides reminders for blood sugar tests or blood pressure checks. Caregivers have access to the data, so you can rest easy knowing your loved one is taking care of themself and intervene if necessary. A win for both of you.
“It’s laundry day” will have a completely different meaning with smart washers and dryers that automate cycles. You can remotely start a load if your loved one fills it, and some machines even store dozens of customized cycles so you don’t have to worry about settings each and every time. And we’ve all heard of robot vacuums (you might even have one roaming your house as we speak), but how about a robot window cleaner? Now that’s a chore anyone will gladly give up.
Here’s to health
Gone are the days when your neighbor across the street checks that your porch light comes on each night as a signal that you’re OK. Now, your loved ones (only a select few, of course) can have access to all your health data and track your vitals throughout the day. There’s caregiver technology that operates as a large, easy-to-use touchscreen and can even do video calls for regular face-to-face check-ins. Smart watches can motivate you to stay active throughout the day and even nudge you to stand up from your marathon blogging session. Smart lavatories automatically measure weight and smart toothbrushes allow remote caregivers to monitor your hygiene.
There are some caveats to all this automation, of course. Some of these technologies can feel like big brother is watching, diminishing a sense of privacy even as it increases autonomy. But if it means a loved one can live at home longer and more independently, the tradeoff might be worth it (especially since you can dictate who gets access to what).
Future technological advances might even be more accessible, cost-effective and innovative than they are today. Some surprising innovations coming down the pipeline include a robotic arm that can chop up dinner ingredients, voice-activated controls that can operate from any room and mirrors that analyze skin to monitor health.
Of most importance, talk about your family members' wishes to age in place, especially if you’re a potential caregiver. And speak to your advisors about what it takes to help someone grow old at home – the way they envision.
Staying in your home (safely) as you age is possible if you make the right preparations. Help your loved one:
- Speak to their advisor about wishes to age in place and create a financial plan that allows for it
- Create a caregiver network with family and friends who can divide tasks you’ll need assistance with
- Remain updated with smart and AI technologies that may be able to help
Sources: grandcare.com; my.matterport.com; okpria.com; silvereco.org; healthtechmagazine.net; techhive.com; time.com