Have you heard the term “the Internet of Things”? If you haven’t, you will. The phrase Internet of Things refers to the growing practice of developing networked devices, so-called “smart devices” that are linked through the Internet. This kind of technology is becoming universal: experts predict that we could be surrounded by as many as 50 billion linked objects by 2020. One article we read in Forbes magazine said that almost any device with an on/off switch can be linked to other devices through the Internet, and this has the potential to change how we live. Driverless cars, for example, are made possible by the Internet of Things. In the future, your office copier might “know” that it’s running low on supplies and order them automatically. Your alarm clock, after waking you up, might send a signal to your coffee maker to start brewing. It all sounds convenient – and maybe a little eerie!
The reason we bring this up, and why it affects our clients and radio listeners here at AgingOptions, is that it’s considered inevitable that the Internet of Things will be applied to health care, especially as it pertains to seniors. In fact, it’s already happening. And there’s a name for all the health care devices that are wirelessly connected to “the Cloud” – it’s called the Internet of Caring Things. We found an extremely interesting article about this topic on the website Next Avenue, and the title raises what we think is a central issue in the application of this new age of technology. The article is called, “Home Technology for Older Adults: Safety or Intrusion?” Click here for the link.
The Next Avenue feature which appeared last spring puts the idea this way. “Imagine a home where hidden sensors in the walls can predict a fall weeks before the event occurs, the front door can be unlocked by someone who is immobilized upstairs and a cup can call the ambulance if an elderly person with congestive heart failure or chronic kidney disease is in severe danger of becoming dehydrated or malnourished. Welcome to the Internet of Caring Things.” Next Avenue says that a few products representing the leading edge of this technology have already hit the marketplace, including the Fitbit wearable fitness tracker and the Nest smart thermostat. But these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interactive technology. If you’re a senior, or are caring for an aging loved one, you’re going to be seeing more and more of this technology in the years ahead. The Internet of Caring Things “represents a revolution in how health care is managed,” say the experts.
As with most technology, these new advances also represent a double-edged sword. On the upside, these linked devices, when properly designed, can let caregivers continuously and unobtrusively monitor a senior’s daily routine to be able to watch for any potentially ominous changes. For example, in one specially designed senior community in Missouri where some of this technology is being evaluated, “Sensors include one placed under a patient’s mattress to detect restlessness, as well as abnormal breathing and pulse rates when sleeping, and another to monitor a patient’s gait to help predict falls. A smart carpet is under development for recognizing falls.” According to the facility’s executive director, the bed sensors are able to predict a resident’s illness up to a month ahead of time. The system can also predict falls two to four weeks before they happen. Other applications are being developed especially for seniors, such as a system that automatically turns on the bathroom light at night when a resident gets out of bed, or even a special cup that monitors how much a person drinks each day to prevent dehydration. The list of applications is exploding almost week by week.
But there are downsides, of course, chief among them being loss of privacy. Some seniors will fear that these devices essentially allow 24/7 eavesdropping, robbing them of their dignity and autonomy. After all, when everything from your sleeping habits to how much water you drink can be observed, where’s your sense of independence? By the same token, there will also likely be many seniors who will reject the use of monitoring technology because to them these systems evoke a sense of frailty and dependence. Even if these systems are designed to be unobtrusive, some seniors will refuse to employ them because of what they represent: weakness and decline. And who’s going to keep track of all that information? As these monitoring systems come into widespread use, one might question how caregivers in an institutional setting will react to what will become a flood of data pouring in from every one of the residents in their care. All this monitored data on movements, sleep patterns and so forth are pouring into the monitoring stations like an “avalanche,” says Brown University gerontologist Clara Berridge. “In nursing homes, certified nurse assistants often report alert burnout.” In other words, “they reasonably stop responding after so many nonsignificant alerts have needlessly disrupted their work.” There’s just too much data bombarding them for it to be of much use!
As we do with everything retirement-related, we’ll keep you posted here at AgingOptions on developing trends in the Internet of Caring Things. Meanwhile, when it comes to developing trends in all aspects of retirement, we’re ready to be your authoritative guide. We’ll assist you in preparing a comprehensive plan, called a LifePlan that helps ensure you’ll enjoy the type of retirement you’ve dreamed of, one where your assets are well-protected and you’ll never have to worry about becoming a burden to those you love. Your LifePlan encompasses your financial protection, your legal preparation, your medical coverage, your housing options and your family communications in one well-crafted document. It’s easy to find out more about the LifePlanning process, without cost or obligation: simply plan to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars in your area. You’ll find the link to our Upcoming Events page here. Select the seminar of your choice and register online, or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon – and bring your questions!
(originally reported at http://www.nextavenue.org)