According to the National Statistics Office, elderly people made up 18.8% of the total population in Malta by the end of 2017 and considering that this number is likely to keep increasing in the next 20 or 30 years, age-friendly technology and devices to help improve the experience of ageing at home are more of a necessity than ever. Understandably, older adults don’t like the idea of letting go of their homes, their memories and independence. As a family member, you want to honour their desire to stay at home, but you also want them to be safe. How do you find a balance that works for everyone?
To cope with the trend of ageing in place, there are “smart” devices, which are perfectly suited to independent adults who are ageing in place. These devices provide convenience, reliability and safety to seniors who live on their own or who have family caregivers who live far away. But more importantly, some of these devices let you put off the decision and expense of moving an ageing family member to an assisted living facility.
But how do you identify the best technology to help your ageing loved ones?
Think about specific areas they struggle with. How can they be simplified or improved? What role can technology play? A single device could make all the difference!
Learn how you can bring technology into your parents’ home
Technological knowledge is something that younger people (or the so-called millennials) take for granted. Some baby boomers are quite well acquainted with new technology too. However, some of our elders may lack technological knowledge, regardless all of their wisdom and life experience. Helping them with the basics could help them start using a variety of smart gadgets and, therefore, enhance their quality of life and safety at home.
Here are some basic examples to start with:
1 – Teach them how to use a smartphone, a tablet or even a computer – they are used to buttons, but touch screen systems could be even easier for them;
2 – Teach them how to connect to Wi-Fi and search on Google – they will feel empowered, having all the information they’ve ever dreamed of just a click away:
These are the very basic foundations they might need in order to get ready for the technological trends that will inevitably become more and more available to seniors. But think how easy everything else will seem after they learn these two steps.
When it comes to introducing your parent or relative to different gadgets and apps, a good way to go about it is to ask your children to step in. They are digital natives, so they are more experienced with technology and, typically, better at explaining it simply. As well as this, teaching may be better received when provided by a grandchild. Sometimes parent-child dynamics can add more drama and tension to a situation.
If they tell you it’s too late, remind them that they are smarter than they think! All we want to do is point them in the direction of the resources so that they can take advantage of the technology. After their introduction to the exciting new world of the Internet and technology, your older relative will feel empowered and will end up saying: “who’s old?”
So, how can we use technology to make ageing in place easier?
The demand for home automation technology is growing exponentially. And why is that? It’s all about making life a little simpler and less stressful, and being able to enjoy retirement without being too concerned with the process of ageing.
In fact, one of the ways to slow ageing down is to embrace novelty. An open mind will recognise all the benefits technology can bring into our lives. And we are not talking about robots providing home care!
We refer to the 4 in 10 Americans aged 50 plus who, according to the AARP, already own a tablet and are embracing digital technology and allowing devices into their lives that will make them easier, without the stigma. At Stannah we’re very happy to hear this, as a part of Stannah’s social mission is to fight against the stigma and allow seniors to live independently with dignity.
Here are some of the main “ageing in place” essentials, technological concepts and gadgets your elderly loved ones should be introduced to:
1# Make sure your parents have the right connectivity:
In the exciting new world of the Internet, everything starts with the right connectivity. It is important to have an up-to-date router, not only to access the Internet, but to be compatible with the most recent Internet protocol, as it will become the central hub that controls all their devices and sensors.
2 # Touch-screen and voice-activated systems for seniors
Senior users may have difficulty using a mouse. They might have difficulty getting it to the right place and shaky hands could make it hard for them to use the device’s small buttons. That is why touch-screen systems can be the best solution for them. Besides, touchscreens provide a more intuitive interaction between user and device.
Google Home: Smart Speaker & Home Assistant
Some of you may already know Siri or Cortana for smartphones. But there’s a new generation of voice-first technology or “smart speakers”, which can be used to answer questions, play music, read books aloud, interact with network-connected devices and offer scheduled alerts. If your elderly loved one enjoys reading, but has trouble reading a book, how would he or she feel about hearing it aloud?
3# Engage with other with simplified computers
Telikin: simplified computers for seniors
The best computer for an elderly person should include touch-screen capabilities. The Telikin desktop computer has been on the market for a couple of years now and is an excellent option. As well as the 20’’ touch-screen, it includes a big button menu that displays your favourite functions on the screen at all times in order to provide instant access to the Web, email, games, video chat, photo sharing, news, weather and more!
4# Detecting and protecting with Home Monitoring Systems
Home Monitoring Systems. Example from 3 Rings
Rather than calling your elderly loved one six times a day to check in, activity-based sensors around the home can discretely reassure you they’re up and going about their daily business. If not, a remote family member, caregiver or emergency response service is alerted – via smartphone notification, email or text message — if the elderly person is doing, or not doing, something specific. It could detect if a senior hasn’t left their bedroom at the usual time or if they haven’t used the kettle, the microwave or any other device the sensor could be attached to. There are several brands that provide this kind of home monitoring system. Since they are so discrete, your elderly loved won’t feel they are being monitored and when you do call them, you can talk about more interesting things, as you already know they’ve had breakfast and their morning coffee.
5# Sight and Sound Gadgets
Home safety phone for seniors, from Vtech
Advances in technology aimed at elders are made to help lower anxiety, boost self-esteem, and generally help them stay more engaged and connected at home. They won’t feel anxious if they don’t hear the phone, for instance. In fact, there’s a variety of magnifying helpers that can be “illuminated” or “magnified”, either in size, colour or sound, that will make reading and viewing much easier for older eyes. Telephone amplifying devices allow older loved ones to carry on conversations without having to constantly ask people to repeat themselves, which, in turn, leads to a more natural connection with friends and family. They’re also helpful for making error-free appointments with doctors.
6# Emergency pendants
Emergency pendant or wrist bracelet, from Life Link Response
Medic alert-like pendants can be worn around the wrist or neck. A pendant will have an emergency button on it that can be pressed in case of an emergency, such as after a fall. A call is immediately made to 000 and/or pre-programmed numbers of family members.
Features may vary between solutions. Some work outside, some offer two-way voice support, and others have a “fall detection” feature so loved ones are notified even if a senior isn’t able to press the button.
7# Video chatting:
Encourage your parent to video call you, either from their smartphone or tablet. Your mum or dad might not like the idea of installing a webcam in their home, as they could see it as being an invasion of their privacy. But through a video call, through Skype of Facetime, you can easily check-in and enjoy a virtual “face-to-face” conversation or meal with your parents. It is not only a great way to communicate with them, but it is also a way to check how they are doing, based on the way they look or act.
8# Automatic pill dispensers
Medication Dispenser from Hello I’m Spencer
It is most likely that our aging loved ones are on medication, and we worry that they could forget to take it. Or even worse, they may take the medication twice. An example of how technology can help elders is with “medication alarms” or “medication dispensers”, that manage their pill intake. One example that is already on the market is called “Hello, I’m Spencer”, but there are different types of pill dispensers around that suit different kinds of needs.
9# Thermostat Sensor
Smart Thermostat from Sensi
Regular thermostats can be confusing to program, and seniors with poor eyesight may not be able to adjust the settings easily. To combat this, a connected device like the one in the picture above is simple to program and adjust via smartphone, and even better, it can be synched to respond to voice commands.
How technology can help seniors maintain health and wellness at home
Using a nutrition guide app in the kitchen
Seniors – especially those who live alone – often have problems planning meals and getting the nutrition they need. Use technology to keep track of what they should be eating and when. Try: Simple Meal Reminder (for Android) or FoodRemindr (for Apple).
In a recent AARP survey, 77 % of participants aged 50 plus reported that fitness apps were useful. There is a huge variety of apps on offer. No matter what your fitness level may be, there’s an app for you. Here are some examples:
Brain Fitness Program, from Brain HQ
Just like the rest of the population, seniors need to keep their brains healthy. Encourage them to play games like Sudoku or crosswords or invest in more advanced programs. Try: Brain Fitness Program.
Robotic Vacuum cleaner:
If your elderly loved ones are not as mobile as they once were, robot vacuum cleaners are a fun way to clean the floor at the touch of a button. They can be particularly useful if a senior has rheumatoid arthritis. Amongst other things, the vacuum cleaners are well-equipped to clean up pet hair.
A stairlift for fall prevention
Latest technology on stairlifts, by Stannah
If you’re concerned about your parent climbing the stairs or falling in the living room, either because they have heart ailments, rheumatoid arthritis or mobility issues, installing a stairlift at home could be the best decision. There are a variety of stairlift options to consider, from adapting one for a straight or curved staircase to thinking about renting vs. buying. For those who want to get to the second floor of their beloved home, installing a stairlift makes the world of difference in their quality of life and provides peace of mind.
Ageing in place tech: fostering independence
The growing trend for ageing in place can be supported by smart home technology, where simplicity is king! There’s no doubt that advancing technology will improve ageing lives. However, availability, democratisation, adoption and integration will take time. We believe all ages have a stake in this, although the true beneficiaries of these advances may well be ageing generations to come. In the meantime, as concerns about the impacts of technology weigh on some, we should celebrate the potential of technology to empower older adults to look forward to a long, bright future.
While you can serve as a guide for your ageing family member, it is very important to give them a choice, as it will help them feel in control. Be mindful about involving them in the conversation and decision-making process rather than springing the new technology on them.
But be persistent. Take the time to explain how each choice can allow them to stay safe and ultimately support their desire to remain at home as they age. Technology can provide relief for both ageing seniors and their family members.