As the senior population increases and becomes more digitally connected, Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that enable this demographic to live independently will become more important than ever.
The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that by 2035, citizens 65 and older will outnumber individuals under the age of 18. As the size of the senior community increases, there will be a significant population that requires some form of long-term care and a shortage of resources to meet these needs. Within the aging American population, there’s a growing trend of individuals wanting to age in the comfort of their own homes rather than in a senior living facility.
The mainstream media has picked up on this trend, and companies have started advertising the ways in which their technology can assist the increasingly independent senior demographic. In 2018, Amazon aired their “Be Together More” commercial. The commercial showed a family gifting their grandmother an Echo Spot so they could video chat and stay connected. Voice user interfaces can benefit the senior population as they’re more intuitive than touch screens, which can be challenging for people with limited dexterity. Or are they? Saturday Night Live’s recent parody skit about an Amazon Alexa showcases seniors struggling to use the device and hints at the challenges users may face when adopting new technologies, particularly if the products are not designed with a senior’s needs in mind.
How Can Technology Enable Independence for Senior Citizens?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death among older adults. Life Alert, created in 1987, was one of the first companies to address this problem, and its technology was marketed as a way for seniors to continue living independently. This pendant-shaped device is worn by a user at all times; in the case of a fall, it can be used to contact an emergency-services dispatcher. The company is known for their famous catchphrase “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” Despite the popularity of their slogan, the adoption of the Life Alert technology was relatively minimal. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2010 estimates that only around 14 percent of people who buy an emergency pendant wear it after purchase. The good news is, there are a number of emerging technological solutions that take into account the barriers to adoption that may exist for the senior population.
Independence With Dignity
Jean Anne Booth, the CEO of UnaliWear, created the Kanega watch after her 80-year-old mother refused to use any of the personal emergency response systems on the market. There were three clear problems with the existing aging-in-place products: they were ugly, they limited users to their home unless paired with a smartphone, and they were socially stigmatizing. Jean Anne saw the need for a device that enables independence with dignity. She invented the Kanega watch and raised $100,000 in an initial Kickstarter campaign.
The Kanega watch is specifically designed to meet the needs of seniors. It acts as a comprehensive safety net for users while still blending in with other watches. It has a built-in accelerometer that automatically detects falls while also allowing the user to contact an emergency operator through the touchscreen interface or voice activation. The device provides discreet medication reminders and is waterproof so individuals can shower with it or use it for water exercises. In the case that a user gets lost, the watch has GPS, which allows an emergency operator to locate and provide directions to the individual.
The New and Improved Life Alert
Iggy Fanlo, the CEO of Lively Wearable, wanted to reinvent the traditionally unsuccessful medical-alert pendant. He believed that in order to do so, medical alerting should function as a feature rather than as the entire product.
The Lively Wearable is a fitness tracker that doubles as an emergency device, all wrapped up in a sleek and discreet design. It can be worn as a watch or a pendant and features a single button interface that notifies a user’s support system when pressed. The device counts steps, provides daily fitness challenges, and is waterproof.
While the UnaliWear and the Lively Wearable improve the outcome of a fall by making sure an individual receives timely assistance, they don’t prevent falls from occurring. Two notable solutions that focus entirely on fall prevention are Luna Lights and Path Feel.
Luna Lights is a lighting system that makes night-time trips safer for seniors. An ultra-thin bed sensor detects when an individual is getting out of bed. It then turns on a series of wall lights and illuminates the pathway to any nighttime destination. When the person returns back to bed, the lights automatically turn off. In the case that the lights remain on for an extended period of time, indicating a potential fall, a notification is sent to the user’s support system or caregiver.
Path Feel, created by Walk With Path, are insoles that help improve balance and mobility in elderly individuals by providing vibrational feedback. Studies are currently being conducted on Path Feel, but they hope to commercially launch the product in 2020.
The Future of Seniors and Technology
The Pew Research Center reports that in 2000, only 14 percent of seniors had internet in their homes. However, as of 2017, that number has skyrocketed to 67 percent for adults over the age of 65. Seniors are more digitally connected than ever before. It’s exciting to see technological solutions emerging that pioneer usability and have the potential to greatly help senior citizens maintain their independence.