Wanted: Senior-savvy tech

All hail, the Internet of Things! 2015’s wild, wacky foray into the connectedness of everything was both inspiring and laughable, especially through the lens of the senior demographic. While most seniors don’t need a talking toaster or a refrigerator that knows when the ketchup is almost gone, they certainly do need reliable and transparent technologies that can help them stay connected in ways that matter.

Amid what is increasingly being called “silvertech,” what’s needed most is to get past the shiny, whiz-bang aspects of the gadgets and reach deeper into understanding what kind of technology seniors really need—and how they need it to work.

Using a wearable to track a few vital signs or record a sleep pattern? That’s so 2015. Using portable, easy-to-use technology platforms to encourage seniors to engage with others? Been there, done that. Many seniors, including my 72-year-old mother, use tablets, social media applications and digital communications platforms (think Skype and FaceTime) more than I do.

Senior tech startups are now trying to harness cloud computing, wireless data transfer and the growing acceptance of wearable technology in a grand convergence of capability, accessibility and acceptability.  New apps for tablets and smart phones will increase the functionality of a device a person already owns. The possibilities are tantalizing.

In some cases, the most-craved senior technology is about figuring out how to bridge the gap between A and B. For example, we all know that remote monitoring technology needs to be an added dimension of resident safety and falls prevention—not a substitute for human monitoring. So, how best to bridge the communication gaps between a senior who has fallen, the emergency responders, the family and the primary care provider?

At LeadingAge’s Hackfest, a competition to develop senior care-related technology applications, nearly all of the entrant prototypes were designed to be wearable or at least portable. Developers also will be integrating anywhere, anytime personal emergency response systems (PERS) and proximity sensors into pervasive consumer devices like cell phones and iPads, predicts Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch, in a recent blog.

She also thinks voice activation will be a big part of senior tech’s future—being able to “converse” with a devices means no more squinting at a minuscule smartphone screen or trying to get a Parkinson’s–wracked hand to push tiny buttons.

As senior monitoring technology continues to climb out of the IT department servers and adorn the resident’s wrist (or pocket or shoe), what we’ll need next is a reputable organization that is willing to start reporting on features relating to senior tech wearables–a huge lacuna in today’s market. “What we need is a Consumer Reports for silvertech,” writes Paula Span in a New York Times article.

Then we need the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to realize that quality telehealth and remote health monitoring should be encouraged (i.e. reimbursed) everywhere, not just in rural regions and Accountable Care Organization contexts.

2016 will surely be an exciting year to see who comes up with the hottest app or bridge capability. Over the next few months, we’ll be taking a closer look at what’s happening in the senior technology field, so stay tuned for Long-Term Living’s new series on senior care startups!

Topics: Articles , Wearables