Technology Leading the Way in Healthy Aging

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There are over 76 million baby boomers today over 50 and the first of the 82.1 million generation x-ers reached that milestone in 2015. We live in a unique time in human history. Thanks to the many advances in science and technology over the last 100 years, many Americans can expect to live well into their 80s and beyond. However, living longer also means we have a greater chance of developing a chronic disease like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, or cancer. Long life is a gift, but to make the most of that gift, it’s important to stay in good health for as long as possible.

September is Healthy Aging Month, a time for all of us to get a new lease on life, whether it is by taking better care of our health in preparation for more advanced years, navigating over 50, or helping a loved one to do so. Today, technology is helping solve some of the key challenges in healthy aging, and busting some aging myths along the way. 

Key Challenges

Healthy aging encompasses all areas of life, from financial wellness and social engagement to areas such as mobility, nutrition, brain health, and caregiving. A deficit or difficulty in one area greatly impacts the others. For example, one-third of seniors only drive in the daytime due to health or physical problems, and 19% do not drive at all. This can be problematic in getting to the store, doctors appointments, or to social activities which eventually leads to poor health and nutrition, and isolation. 

Technology is helping overcome these areas of deficit to help all of us improve our physical, mental, social, and financial well-being so that we can all focus on living full and enriched lives and continue to find a new passion for living. 

Are Seniors Really Afraid of Technology?

While early research suggested that older adults were slow to adopt new technologies, those studies included a limited sample of older adults or none at all; none assessed the use of a technology specifically designed for older adults; and most only measured intention to use a technology or short-term use, rather than longer-term use or adoption. With the advent of technologies designed for and marketed to older adults, now not only are seniors adopting technology, but they are also using it to overcome the biggest challenges in aging and open new doors of opportunity. 

One of the biggest challenges for many seniors is giving up driving. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a lack of transportation resulted in missed or delayed medical appointments for more than 35 million Americans, according to a 2017 study. For some, the problem is solved with popular rideshare companies such as Uber or Lyft. Those services, however, require the use of a smartphone to gain access to the service. For those who do not use a smartphone, there are services such as GogoGrandparent. With this service, individuals can use any phone to schedule a ride with pre-screened drivers with those popular companies who receive additional training centered on older adults. Services such as this help older adults stay active, access healthcare, and remain engaged with friends and family. 

Technology for Better Daily Living

Despite the majority of older adults stating a preference to “age in place,” one-third of people over the age of 65 need assistance with at least one activity of daily living. 

Fortunately, there are many new and emergent technologies that not only support older adults’ basic daily activities but also to foster and support their ability to thrive, pursue their passions and engage with their chosen lifestyles.

Currently, 34 million Americans provide unpaid care to loved ones age 50 and over. Many of them also have work and the additional care responsibilities of younger family members. Technology is also playing an important role in helping caregivers improve the lives of their loved one through increased safety, awareness, and communication. 

Using a layered approach, caregivers can monitor the health, safety, activities, and well-being of their loved one to provide an increased level of care without sacrificing their independence or dignity.

Home automation is a tool that can be used to help prevent hazards, such as falling or fires by automatically providing lighting in needed areas or shutting off appliances. Video surveillance provides a way to see family and ensure their safety. By employing motion sensors, caregivers know if there is any unusual activity or a lack of activity that could concern them. Medication monitoring apps help caregivers prevent thousands of deaths each year caused by over or under medication. PERS, mPERS, and GPS have also become increasingly sophisticated.

Pursuing Our Passions

Maximizing cognitive ability and brain health is increasingly a priority for our aging society as the number of people with cognitive limitations and mental health issues continue to rise. Increasingly, we are using technology to help stem the tide by increasing our brain activity by staying engaged with family, friends, activities, and interests. Wouldn’t you know it — there’s an app for that. Actually, many of them. One of the most compelling is the aptly named World News and Magazine app, for example, which provides free online access to over 40,000 worldwide newspapers and magazines. There are also countless games to learn new languages, brain games, and more to keep the mind sharp and spark interest. 

For many years, ageism and outdated social norms have caused many to stay on the sidelines. Today, technology is an important force in healthy aging, helping bridge the gaps between care, providing increased safety, and a vehicle to increased social engagement. Even better? New technologies emerging daily to help in the quest for better living. 

For more information: The Alliance for Aging Research, agingresearch.org

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