Technology helps seniors live independently

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Technology helps seniors to live independently

Technology helps seniors live independently and can help bridge social inequity in society.

May is national Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is Connect, Create, Contribute. One area, in particular, threatens to prevent older adults from making those connections: the digital divide.

Nationally, one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet, and half don’t have internet access at home. Of those who do use the internet, nearly half say they need someone else’s help to set up or use a new digital device. Even in San Francisco – the home of technology giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google – 40% of older adults do not have basic digital literacy skills, and of those, more than half do not use the internet at all.

Mastering digital technology has become a key component of what it means to fully participate in society. If we do not provide technology access and training to older adults, we shut them out from society, worsening an already worrisome trend of isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

Some commonly hear comments like what one elder told me, “We feel like we’re standing outside a building that we have no access to.”

Another woman shared that because she doesn’t have internet access or know how to use technology, she feels, “I’m just not part of this world anymore. In certain facets of society, I just can’t join…. Some [things] just are not possible if you are not in the flow of the internet.”

In contrast to concerns about technology use increasing isolation among younger populations, the communication and connection possible online can be especially valuable for older adults who are homebound, live far away from family, or have lost the loved ones they relied on for social support in their younger years. Elders can use online tools to connect with friends and family via messaging platforms, video chat, and social media even if they can no longer physically visit them.

Older adults can find online support groups for people who share their medical conditions. And they can engage with the outside world through news, blogs, streaming platforms, and email, even if they are no longer able to move about as easily as they once could. As one elder told me, “I can’t really move that easily without a caretaker and I only have her a few hours a day so [the tablet] … has been a great companion for me and it gets me connected with other people.”

For older adults in particular, the risks associated with social isolation are profound. Loneliness among older adults has been associated with depressioncardiovascular disease,functional decline, and death. Technology can serve as an important tool to help reduce these risks, but only if we provide older adults with the skills they need to access our digital world.

But we can close this gap with training and programs that measurably improve older adults’ use of technology and confidence in key digital skills. Programs which embed technology training in existing community-based organizations, should be expanded, with increased funding prioritized at local, state, and federal levels and with greater involvement of technology companies and investors. If we spent even a fraction of the $8 billion invested in digital health companies alone last year on tailoring these tools for older adults, we could drastically expand usability, training, and access to broadband and devices.

Support from technology companies could take many forms. Beyond expanding device donation programs, technology companies should design devices specifically for older adults (when your hand is shaky, swiping can be tough…) and should have tech support call lines tailored to older adults less familiar with the internet (cache and cookies and clouds, oh my!).

Furthermore, broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T should streamline the enrollment process for their affordable internet programs and expand eligibility. Partnerships between service providers and community-based organizations focused on older adults will be key in ensuring that these efforts actually meet the needs of older adults.

To be sure, many older adults also express a lack of interest in technology. For some, this reflects a true lack of desire to use digital tools. But for others it reflects an underlying fear of technology and lack of skills. Appropriate training can help to quell those fears and generate interest. In particular, great care must be paid to online safety training. Older adults are more likely to fall victim to online scams, putting their personal information at risk, but with tailored digital literacy training, they can learn to navigate the internet safely and securely.

The importance of digital inclusion is not going to disappear with the generational changes of the coming decades. Technology is continuously evolving, and with each new digital innovation come challenges for even younger adults to adapt.

With greater investment in providing accessible devices, broadband, and digital training, technology has the potential to become a powerful tool for reducing loneliness among older adults, empowering them to connect, create, and contribute online. As one elder put it, “It’s time to catch up, you know, and join the world.”

Are you a family or professional caregiver, see how technology can help seniors live independently, longer!

Senior Tech in the U.S. is on the rise

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According to the Pew Research Center, technology adoption of Americans aged 65 and older is on the rise. As of 2018, 66 percent of U.S. seniors used the internet, up from just 14 percent in 2000.

As the following chart illustrates, older Americans still trail the overall adult population in terms of tech usage, but the digital gap is no longer as pronounced as it used to be.

Technology Solutions for Senior Care

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I was delighted to deliver a presentation on technology solutions for senior care to the UCSD Rady’s School of Management, and am happy to share with you this presentation.

 

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Amazon Alexa empowering seniors to stay healthy!

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Alexa for health

Dr. on call

Too busy to call your doctor’s office? Well now you can simply shout at Alexa from the comfort of your couch for slightly similar results. Echo owners are able to hear physician-reviewed answers to questions about certain medical conditions and symptoms, drugs, side effects, tests and treatments by simply asking Alexa about them.

So now it’ll be even easier to spend hours on end trying to determine whether that teeny, tiny, probably harmless splinter you got in your pinky finger could lead to your imminent demise. Woo!

Generally speaking

Looking for answers to your health question, worried about drug side effects, WebMD has the answers for you. Looking for self-care instructions for dozens of everyday mishaps and other situations, then Mayo Clinic First Aid may have some answers for you. On the other hand, Dr. A. I. engages with you in an empathetic conversation.  And mention your symptoms as a “dry cough and fever”, then Symptom Checker has solutions for you.

Diabetes tracking

Now you can track all your diabetes data via voice command with Amazon Alexa! The One Drop Alexa Skill uses Amazon voice technology along with the One Drop app to create a quick and seamless experience for both people with diabetes and their caregivers. Sugarmate on the other end allows you to ask Alexa about your latest glucose readings from a Dexcom CGM, while The Insulin Calculator provides a straightforward and easy way to calculate insulin doses for people with diabetes. It is intended for educational purposes to help with standard insulin dose calculations.

Chronic conditions

To track other chronic conditions try myNursebot.

Before you pop that pill

When it works, the WebMD Alexa Skill is helpful, but unfortunately, many users report the skill has trouble recognizing drug names when they’re spoken aloud. Drug Facts pulls up information from both the Food and Drug Administration and the National Library of Medicine, but you must know the 10-digit National Drug Code number to get your drug questions answered.

Your doctor and hospital connect to Alexa

For urgent care clinic locations, various local Alexa Skills are launching. OhioHealth delivers phone numbers, wait times, and hours of operation for hospitals and healthcare clinics under the OhioHealth umbrella. To see the average, not real time, wait times, try Average ER wait times for hospitals near me.

Babies and kids

For children’s health, KidsMD by Boston Children’s Hospital is a bit too chatty — but still useful for answering questions, and gives dosing recommendations for children based on their weight for common over-the-counter medicines. To look up childhood immunization recommendations based on the U.S. vaccination schedule, Baby Shot will tell you what is advised for your child’s age.

Need help in the middle of the night — or honestly any time at all? Hatch Baby has doctor-recommended advice, while also keeping track of a baby’s sleep schedule, along with dirty and wet diapers. Even more expansive, the Baby Stats Alexa Skill tracks due dates, kicking, bottles drunk and diaper activity for multiple babies.

Now, who said about wait times at the doctor’s clinic…..

Doctors can now call Uber for patients, ditching taxi vouchers

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Seniors

The ride-hailing company Thursday announced the launch of Uber Health, a desktop platform for healthcare providers that allows doctors to provide rides for patients who might otherwise miss their appointments because they can’t get to them.

Uber Health has been in testing since July with around 100 physicians and hospitals. Rival Lyft also has been working with healthcare providers over the past few years. Both tech startups have been looking for ways to grow their business with companies.

The benefits to doctors and hospitals of using ride-hailing apps — which replace taxis and medical shuttles, but not ambulances  — include on-demand scheduling, destination tracking, and lower costs, said one doctor who had tried Uber’s service.

Nationally, missed appointments cost healthcare providers $150 billion a year, with no-show rates as high as 30%, according to SCI Solutions, which provides IT services to the healthcare industry.

“In the past, we used taxis, but you had to hand out a voucher in person, you had no idea where the person might be going and it cost 20% to 40% more,” says Chris Needham, director of Member Health and Wellness at Renown Health, which serves urban and rural patients in northern Nevada and has been testing Uber Health since October.

Needham says hospital staff assesses which patients are at risk of missing critical appointments and provides them with pick-up and drop-off rides at the hospital’s expense.

Another benefit of the service is helping healthcare providers meet patient care goals that can factor into how a facility scores with regulators.

Critically, Uber says it’s worked with Clearwater Compliance to ensure Uber Health is compliant with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) standards.

More than 100 healthcare organizations have been using Uber Health as part of its beta program, including Blood Centers of the Pacific, Georgetown Home Care, LifeBridge Health, and MedStar Health. The dashboard and API are now available publicly.

Microsoft’s new Soundscape iOS app is designed to help the visually impaired navigate cities

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Microsoft has a new app out today called Soundscape that uses 3D audio technology to help map out landmarks and points of interest through audio cues.

Soundscape empowers more people to explore the world around them through a 3D audio experience. The app enriches your perception of surroundings as you walk, helping you get where you want to go. Rushing between classes, going for coffee with a friend or touring a new city with the family are all common experiences that could be more rewarding and cause less anxiety for nearly 300 million people with sight loss worldwide.

Users can set audio beacons at specific destinations and places, and the app will provide 3D audio cues (which can be perceived directionally) to help improve their “ambient awareness” as they travel there. Users will then be able to incorporate that information from the Soundscape as they build a mental image of what’s around them.

The Soundscape app can also call out points of interest, roads, and intersections that you pass, along with more specific settings for describing a user’s current location and direction, or what’s coming up ahead of them. For example, it can describe different shops and street names as you walk by, something that other navigation techniques used by people with visual impairments can’t always help with.

If a user isn’t sure where they are or which way to travel, they can hold the phone flat in their hand with the top edge facing the direction they want to go and then use the buttons at the bottom of the screen to locate nearby landmarks and navigate.

The app is designed to be used in tandem with more traditional means of navigation, not replace them. As Erin Lauridsen, the access technology director at LightHouse for the Blind explains, “Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that. The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

Microsoft Soundscape can be downloaded here.

Exciting Times for Telehealth

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Online medical diagnosis and treatment

Online medical diagnosis and treatment

2017 brought some exciting developments in the telehealth space. 2016’s 21st Century Cures Act has helped to streamline regulations around the adoption of digital health technologies, and in response the FDA has established a new digital health unit to focus on areas such as telemedicine, mobile apps, wearable devices, clinical algorithms (aka software-as-a-medical-device), and health information technology.

As a result of its new focus on streamlining, the FDA has:

  • Issued final guidance on the use of real-world evidence for medical product development and post-market study requirements
  • Announced the pilot of its premarket certification program, called Pre-Cert, that focuses on streamlining the approval process of lower-risk digital health tools

These changes help to reduce the time and cost of market entry for companies in the digital health space, also allowing existing players to leverage their consumer wellness products into the medical field. This means that the data generated by wearable devices will be increasingly used for medical purposes, and other technologies—such as the smart home and smart speakers—may also be able to pull double duty in both the consumer and medical space.  Adoption of telehealth solutions by payers, providers, and consumers is also likely to be accelerated due to the FDA’s digital health initiatives.

As we head into 2018, we should expect to see:

  • Increased focus on clinical applications built on consumer wearable platforms, such as the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear
  • Clinical algorithms incorporating natural language processing and machine vision technology
  • Telehealth solutions including 4K or 5K high-resolution video, and multi-user connections for consulting with multiple medical professionals at once
  • An increasing number of telehealth solutions focused on emerging technology areas, such as the smart home space, smart speakers with personal assistants, virtual reality, and wearable exoskeletons
  • New medical and health devices offering standalone cellular connectivity, brought about the availability of low-cost LTE solutions such as LTE-M and NB-IoT and the high reliability of next-gen mobile networks

3 Easy Home Security Upgrades for Older Adults

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Seniors Home Security

Outdated technology and unreliable hardware have made some traditional home security setups tough to live with, especially for older adults. Inconvenient wall-mounted control panels can be difficult to access in a hurry if you have limited mobility, and many old-style systems feature small controls and clumsy interfaces that can be especially frustrating for arthritic hands.

Thankfully, the recent wave of smart home innovations (including those from your local cable company) has brought many new products and technologies to the marketplace that make it easier than ever to secure your home. Here are some of the best upgrades to make your home safer, and an all-around better place to live.

1. Video Doorbells
Home security starts at the front porch, and one of the best smart gadgets on the market is a simple upgrade to a common household feature: the doorbell. Products like the Skybell WiFi Video Doorbell and the August Doorbell Camera can provide an excellent first line of defense to your home that is surprisingly easy to use and install.
Simply remove the old doorbell button, attach a few small wires and connect the unit to your home’s Wi-Fi. This simple 10-minute project will provide you with a motion-detecting video feed of visitors and deliveries, all visible via a mobile app on your phone.

With this system in place, seniors can easily screen visitors without ever having to make their way to the door — which means being able to dismiss solicitors through smartphonesion, smart phone or tablet, without even getting up.

2. Smart Garage Door Systems
Upgrading your garage door opener is probably the last thing you think of when you contemplate home security, but seniors may find today’s smart garage sensors to be a huge help in keeping their homes safe.
Systems like MyQ from Chamberlain and other similar products connect a few simple sensors in the garage to a smart home hub, giving users wireless control over their garage doors from inside their home, or even from afar. The app makes it simple to close a forgotten open door while you’re lying in bed or away visiting family. Many cases of theft are due to something as simple a homeowner leaving a garage door open overnight, and this simple tool can help prevent that from happening.

3. Smart Sensors and Cameras

Older adults looking for more traditional ways of securing their homes may be happy to learn that the clunky security products of the past have been replaced with smarter, more reliable solutions that are much easier to install. Visit your local hardware store or talk to your internet service provider or cable company, and you’ll discover some excellent home security kits that operate with battery-powered sensors instead of wires.
You can place these cameras and sensors throughout your home in a matter of minutes, or have the installation done for you by a professional. Use the products in conjunction with a wireless wall panel, or even as part of an all-inclusive smart home hub that you can control through a mobile app on your phone.

These systems are effective on their own, but they’re especially useful when you throw a few indoor and outdoor smart cameras into the mix. Outdoor cameras can give you an early alert to unexpected visitors (whether you’re at home or away), and indoor cameras can provide a valuable safety net of additional security and comfort, as many include temperature and air quality sensors, too.

How the Internet of Things will enable seniors to stay in their homes longer

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Ninety percent of adults over the age of 65 report that they would prefer to stay in their current residence as they age. Livability can be optimized through the incorporation of universal design principles. One-third of American households are home to one or more residents 60 years of age or older.

Senior Living

Cheerful senior couple making faces and having fun while taking a selfie with smart phone.

Technology can be an enabler for aging in place. There are four categories of technology that may help seniors stay in their home longer: Communication and Engagement, Health and Wellness, Learning and Contribution, and Safety and Security.

Emerging sensor and connectivity technology has made possible the development of a new generation of monitoring systems that don’t require the person being monitored (the resident) to wear a device. Instead, networks of sensors within the home connect to a cloud-based algorithm that learns the daily living patterns of the resident. The algorithm recognizes if there is a deviation that may require sending an alert to a smart phone or social media app so someone can take action, or at least pay closer attention.

The behavior patterns that Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring systems are able to detect and learn include these activities:

  • location of the resident within the home
  • light sources being used
  • bed time and awakening time
  • television watching
  • cooking
  • bathroom usage
  • leaving the home and returning
  • heating or air conditioning temperature and adjustments

As you can see, all of these depend on either motion or an electric appliance or source being utilized, which pretty much encapsulates everyone’s home life. Surely anything that can reduce the astronomical number of human caregivers that would be needed over the next few decades to care for the exploding elderly demographic is welcome.

Studies Reveal Adopting Online Technology Links to Better Health Situations for Seniors

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Smart Home Automation

Learning, embracing and adopting a new technology is, for some seniors, an extremely daunting task. But logging onto Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts or perusing the internet can provide seniors with worthwhile health benefits. Many studies including a  study published in the issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, seniors who routinely use online technology engage in more cancer-preventive behaviors than their peers. The study shows that aging adults who utilize the internet are more likely to be active and physically fit, eat a well-balanced diet, and are less likely to smoke than their peers who utilize the internet less often. These findings led the team to conclude that increased utilization of modern technology directly correlates to seniors? overall health.

To reach this conclusion, researchers from University College London examined data from the English Longitudinal Study on Aging, which collected participant information every two years for nearly a decade. Approximately 6,000 subjects age 50 and older participated. Each participant was asked to detail his or her habits for a host of daily activities which included smoking, physical activity, health checkups, routine screenings and internet usage. The results led researchers to theorize that internet aficionados are more aware of their health. 73% of Internet-savvy seniors stated they had received preventive screenings for both color and breast cancer compared to 51% of non-internet users. The study also showed that senior internet users are 50% more active and less likely to smoke.

Age, ethnicity, education and socioeconomic status also played into these findings, revealing a potential inequality to cancer outcomes among those who shun this technology. While the notion that embracing technology might have the ability to improve health status, further study on this potential correlation is warranted.

At Smaart House, we understand the importance of utilizing new technologies and what it can do to benefit the health of a loved one. We make technology easy to adapt and understand and provide the support seniors need to age in their own homes.