By any measure, technology has been the defining driver of social change in the past hundred years. In the coming decades the same tools that have utterly reshaped the way we work and play will come to bear in the area of aging. The tools of technology will change what it means to be a senior in America.
What has aging meant in the past? For most it represents a state of frailty, a time of isolation, a condition of diminished independence. With the advent of emerging technologies, all those former perceptions of aging likely will change.
According to a research report from BCC Research, the global market for senior technology products should reach nearly $7.2 billion by 2018. Getting older can, and will, be better as the impact of those technologies is felt.
1. Resident Wellness.
If frailty marked the aging process in the past, wellness will take its place moving forward. Take for instance the most common cause of physical degeneration among seniors, the fall. The cost of falls among the elderly was $34 billion in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control reports, and the numbers keep rising. Some researchers have found an 8 percent increase in falls from 1998 to 2010 among adults age 65 and over.
Clearly, technologies that help reduce falls will play a major role in reducing frailty and improving overall senior wellness. Take for instance the emergence of wireless sensors to help manage stability. These sensors can observe movement and gait, assesses what’s “normal” for a particular resident, and calculate an automated Timed Up and Go (TUG).
By putting sophisticated software into the mix it becomes possible to chart a person’s typical movements and trigger a warning to caregivers if a fall seems imminent. Such passive monitoring promises to dramatically change the nature of aging.
2. Sense of Community.
In the past aging has been perceived as a process of growing isolation, with the older person increasingly cut off from friends, family and the broader community. As we have seen already in all strata of society, technology can be a powerful tool in the effort to build bridges and end isolation.
For senior housing providers looking to reshape the future of aging, an integrated communications system is a powerful starting point. A communications portal may integrate a number of technologies that, when taken together, may forge a dramatic change in the aging experience. A portal may offer social media, one-click links to email or to video conversations, even calendars to keep seniors connected to their immediate community.
Isolation is not an inevitable part of aging. Using emerging technologies, seniors are more enabled than ever to remain in constant, vital contact with friends and loved ones.
3. Seniors’ Independence.
Aging has long been associated with the loss of independence: As physical and mental acuity declines, seniors must rely more on the support of caregivers, family and others. This sense of diminished independence often has been the source of depression and declining health.
Senior technology keeps residents independent. Smart sensors and feedback monitors make exercise easier and more productive, helping to drive better health outcomes and – ultimately – the sustained ability to care for oneself. Ongoing social connections encourage mental acuity and help to ward off the depression that too often leaves seniors dependent on the care of others.
Just as technology has changed every facet of contemporary culture, so we see it changing the nature of aging. Frailty, isolation, loss of independence: All these begin to fade from view as technology bring a new face of aging into focus.