Technology is making it easier and safer to age in place, with everything from apps to change your surroundings to telemedicine platforms. The vast majority of seniors prefer to age at home instead of in a hospital or other facility.
Americans are living longer lives, and the clear majority of them would prefer to grow old in their own homes and communities. However, retaining such independence comes with problems and expense. Healthcare technology, from applications to devices and wearables, is allowing more individuals to age in place.
Every day in the United States, almost 11,000 Americans reach the age of 65. The annual number is expected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, according to the Census Bureau.
According to an AARP study, 9 out of 10 elderly persons would prefer to stay in their own homes rather than go to a nursing home or assisted living facility if at all possible.
People desire to age in place for a variety of reasons, according to a 2015 report by the National Council on Aging, including liking where they live, having friends and family nearby, and not wanting to deal with the hassle and expense of moving.
What Does It Mean to Grow Old in Your Own Home?
Aging in place is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “the ability to live safely, independently, and pleasantly in one’s own home and neighborhood, regardless of age, poverty, or ability level.”
Lin and her 71-year-old husband decided to stay in their huge Tampa, Florida, house of 40 years after he suffered a small stroke.
“Not only does aging in place allow us to keep our current social network and expand upon it,” Lin says, “it gives us the freedom to keep our pets, host friends at home, entertain all the grandkids, and continue with what we enjoy — instead of moving to a facility and being socially isolated and lonely.”
The psychological impact of leaving one’s home or community might be dangerous to one’s health.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered that social isolation and loneliness are linked to a higher risk of death in persons aged 52 and up. Loneliness has been related to high blood pressure, an increased risk of heart disease, and death.
Of course, depending on the individual’s physical and mental health, treatment needs, and other circumstances, aging in place isn’t always an option.
Despite this, “thousands of older individuals have been flooding into nursing facilities unnecessarily when they can and should remain in their own house or apartment,” according to James J. Callahan, Jr., author of the book Aging in Place.
Where Technology and Aging in Place Collide
Because of a variety of technologies, aging in place is much safer now than it was even a decade ago. Apps that assess your home environment and recommend changes to make it safer, voice-enabled gadgets that allow quick access to health information and services, and telemedicine that connects at-home patients with healthcare practitioners are just a few examples.
In a press release about AARP’s showcase of “age-tech” at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said, “All businesses and entrepreneurs must recognize the growing economic power and potential of the 50-plus market and help create innovative solutions to empower us to live better as we age.”
Here are a few instances of how technology may make aging at home more convenient and secure.
What Home Modifications Are Required
When Bob, a 58-year-old Atlanta resident, fell off a ladder three years ago and broke his femur and wrist, his doctor gave him two options: go to a facility 40 minutes away for treatment or adapt his home so he could recover and live freely there.
Bob adds, “I’d never considered being unable to climb up my front porch steps or our home’s two flights of stairs.” “This was a tremendous wake-up call that I needed to make changes in order to age in place at home.”
The type of adjustments required is determined by the senior’s living environment and physical requirements. “Some of my patients add a first-floor bedroom and bath, while others convert the downstairs kids’ playroom or garage into a bedroom,” says Harris McIlwain, MD, a board-certified rheumatologist and geriatrician based in Florida and former medical director of John Knox Village, an assisted living and rehab facility.
Dr. McIlwain says, “I urge them to incorporate safety features like grab bars and a shower chair to minimize falls, which become more common as people age and can lead to loss of independence.”
So, what changes can and should be made to a home?
Ensure Medication Regimen Adherence
Adherence to medications in elderly adults is a big challenge. According to a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, about half of people do not take their drugs as prescribed.
Seniors frequently take multiple prescription medications, which necessitates keeping track of dosages and when certain medications should be taken. It might also be difficult to read labels and distinguish between prescriptions if you have vision loss.
In the Event of an Emergency, Notifying Others
Prompt medical aid is crucial in the event of an accident, such as a fall, or a medical emergency. A medical alert system can be quite useful for elderly who live alone.
Self-monitoring and Telemedicine
For a variety of reasons, including lack of mobility and transportation, getting an appointment with a doctor in the office can be difficult for older patients. Telemedicine (virtual visits with a healthcare provider) can help in this situation.
Taking Care of Chronic Pain at Home
According to the National Health and Aging Trends Study, more than half of older persons experience troublesome pain, with three-quarters experiencing pain in more than one body area.
While there are many successful pain drugs, chronic pain patients can also benefit from wearables like Sana Health, which uses pulsed light and sound to alleviate pain.
Aging in place necessitates preparing ahead of time, based on your immediate needs but keeping in mind that these may change over time. Discuss any health issues or concerns you may have with your doctor, as well as any assistive equipment and home adjustments would be beneficial.
“I tell my 50-plus patients to plan ahead for what they might require as they age in place,” McIlwain says. It’s also crucial to start looking into the best Medicare plan for your needs.