What’s one thing 9 out of 10 seniors say they want to do? The answer is, they want to grow older in their own homes – to age in place. Some call it “non-assisted living” and some call it “living independently,” but the simple bottom line is that people almost all say they don’t want to move into a healthcare institution until they absolutely, positively have to, and maybe not even then. We can’t count the number of times this topic comes up on our call-in radio program and in our LifePlanning Seminars. Aging in place is practically every senior’s dream.
Knowing how strongly people feel about this, we were naturally drawn to this article from USA Today which appeared a few weeks ago, talking about the role of technology in helping seniors stay at home longer. We’ve seen articles like this before, and frankly we’ve been a little bit skeptical about the role of gadgetry in the issues of aging– after all, is keeping a video camera trained on Mom really going to help her feel more secure? But as these devices have become more sophisticated and less expensive, they may be worth a look for families intent on helping a loved one live safely in their own home. It’s also interesting to note that today’s boomers are much more comfortable with digital technology (generally speaking) than their parents were, and as these boomers age we could very likely see a rapid rise in the number of them using electronics to help them live the way they want – independently and at home.
“Today, high-tech monitoring systems and other gadgets are helping seniors age in place independently,” writes USA Today, “while giving family members peace of mind in the process. What’s more, home-based tech tools could be far less expensive than moving into an assisted living environment.” With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at what caught the eye of USA Today. What are some of the breakthroughs helping promote aging in place?
The first technological category of interest is sensors. Any adult child who is trying to monitor the health and well-being of an aging parent living alone knows the feeling of calling on the phone several times each day to check in – and the uncertainty if Mom or Dad fails to answer or things don’t sound quite right. USA Today says, “Rather than calling Mom six times a day to check in, activity-based sensors around the home can discreetly alert loved ones she’s up and carrying about her daily business.” Sensors can tell if a loved one is or isn’t out of bed, whether a medicine cabinet or refrigerator door has been opened or not, and even whether a loved one is drinking enough water. With one in-home system, professionals install sensors wherever the family wants them, and then (for a monthly fee) if anything is amiss, an alert is instantly sent via phone, email or text to designated caregivers. Once again, we wonder if many families are ready for this level of technology, but if a parent insists on living independently he or she may demand having those sensors installed.
Emergency pendants have been around a while (“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”) but some of the newer models may be worth looking into to help monitor independently-minded adults. In addition to the “panic-button” feature long available, some pendants offer two-way voice communication with 24 hour monitoring. Others are designed to work outside which is helpful for seniors who spend time out in the yard. One feature we think makes a lot of sense is built-in GPS on some pendant models to guide emergency workers to the wearer’s precise location.
The final bit of tech we’ll look at in this summary of the USA Today article is the medication reminder and pill dispenser. This may not seem like such a big deal to some, but once again anyone who has cared for an aging loved one knows the difficulty of making sure Mom or Dad took their pills in the right dose at the right time. It’s potentially dangerous when a dose is forgotten, or when someone takes a double dose out of confusion or forgetfulness. Some of these high-tech reminder/dispenser systems, while not cheap, definitely take the guesswork out of prescription monitoring. Basic systems hold pills inside a special container and rotate to dispense the right medications at the right time, sending out an alarm and flashing light when dosage time comes (as many as six times each day). Other systems are more sophisticated (and pricier): one even can be programmed to alert a loved one when a dosage is skipped.
So is all this technology a good thing or a bad thing? As with many scientific advances, we would argue that the technology itself is neutral, neither bad nor good: the key is how we use it. If a family tries to use technology as a replacement for personal, loving involvement, then we call that a negative outcome, but if these tools help an aging family member live independently and avoid becoming a burden on his or her loved ones – who are still very much involved in a loving and caring way in the senior’s daily life – then technology can be a great blessing. As we often say at AgingOptions, aging is a family affair.
All that said, we believe that no amount of technology will replace the human touch. A living, caring person with “eyes and ears on the ground,” so to speak, will always have a different and more intuitive way of evaluating the overall health of a loved one. To that end we would like to suggest a low-tech solution: a local care manager. This person can be a social worker, nurse or similar professional who you can arrange to have visit Mom or Dad on a regular basis to check to make sure that all is well. If they see anything amiss, the care manager will be the first person to intervene in a timely manner. You can learn more about this time-tested low-tech solution by going to www.bettercaremanagement.com or to www.caremanager.org.
Perhaps you’re getting serious about planning for your own retirement, and you’re ready to take the next step. If that’s so, we recommend that you investigate the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Our approach to retirement planning is unique, blending all the key elements of aging into one seamless strategy: your financial plan, your legal protection, your housing choices, your medical coverage, even communication with your family. There’s no better way than with an AgingOptions LifePlan to protect your assets as you age, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the unhappy fate of being forced into institutional care against your wishes.
If this kind of well-planned independence appeals to you, come join us and learn more at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find dates, times, locations and registration information here. (Or if you prefer, call us for assistance during the week.) These free seminars definitely fill up fast, so register today, and we’ll see you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.
(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)