Technologies for Aging Baby Boomers

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By Russ Banham

Despite the popular misconception that everyone ends up in a nursing home, more than half of 95 year-olds still live at home. Among them is my 93 year-old dad.

Jack served in World War II and the Korean War and came home with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. When you experience combat as a teenager and survive, it makes the rest of life’s challenges a bump in the road. He’s battled colon cancer and melanoma and won, and came out of a quadruple bypass smiling. A former marathoner who ran the NYC Marathon in four hours at 60, he goes for a two-mile walk each day, jogging in the last couple blocks. He fills his morning making art collages and then cuts vegetables to get dinner ready for my working sister and her husband, whose home he shares. He fully expects to become a centenarian.

There are likely to be more Jacks as my generation of Baby Boomers enter our golden years. With longevity rates pointing upwards—more than one in three women and one in five men who are 65 will reach age 90, according to the Brooking Institution—the volume of older Boomers likely to be taking care of themselves at home is substantial. This social phenomenon, called “aging in place,” will likely lead the Baby Boomer generation to depend on technologies that ease the daily challenges of living long and well in their own homes.

Virtual Caregivers

One can thank modern healthcare advancements for our longer expected lifespans. “We are all benefiting from new medicines, bio-technology, gene therapies, and 3D bio-printing of body parts,” said Nancy Shenker, who writes the popular Bots & Bodies column in Inc. magazine and is the founder and publisher of Embrace The Machine, an AI marketing agency. “There’s a lot of work being done to keep us Boomers alive and thriving longer than previous generations.”

Yet despite scientific advancements, no one is predicting peak health and fitness for those in their last decades. Even the fittest Boomers today are likely to experience fading hearing, eyesight, and mobility—which is where technology comes into play.

A variety of solutions using sensors, smartphone apps, GPS systems, and voice activation have been developed to help older people age in place—enjoying independent lives in their homes. Lively, for instance, is a smartwatch that can remind older people when it is time to take a particular medication. ElliQ is a social robot that uses AI technology to encourage a more active and engaged lifestyle; marketed by Intuition Robots, the robot may suggest that the user go for a walk, knowing that the weather outside is perfect that very minute for a promenade.

Voice technologies allow people to communicate with their smart speakers, like Amazon Echo, and connect to smart devices to help perform household tasks.

“There is great value for someone whose motor skills are compromised to say `open the trashcan’ when they need to dump a large bag of refuse into it,” said Shenker. “They can ask the smart coffee machine to make coffee or the smart refrigerator which foods are in short supply, and then request that those items be ordered over the internet for delivery.”

Saving Lives, Maintaining Dignity

Technology can be a literal lifesaver, yet even with new innovations come complications. While personal emergency response systems—worn on the wrist or around the neck—allow seniors to press a button in the event of an emergency, only 14 percent of older people continuously wear the devices continuously. What’s more, approximately 83 percent of seniors fail to activate the alert button after being on the floor for more than five minutes.

Newer technologies are setting out to address these shortcomings. TruSense, for example, is a smart health monitoring and tracking device that combines GPS with a range of monitoring sensors in the home. The technology detects periods of human inactivity that may indicate a possible health crisis.

“If someone gets up at a certain time of the day and then moves through a series of rooms over a period of time—and does not do this one morning— a designated family member is contacted immediately,” said Rob Deubell, senior vice president of TruSense.

The internet-enabled sensors measure motion, temperature, water leaks, the presence of visitors, and voice sounds. This data flows to a computer that uses algorithms to discern when normal human behaviors, habits, and patterns are out of alignment.

The algorithm is developed to trigger an alarm when two or more events occur simultaneously, limiting the possibility of false alerts. If Grandma, for example, is sleeping at her grandchild’s place, there will be no movement. But if there is no movement and some other anomaly is detected, such as a much higher or lower room temperature, then this may be clearer evidence of a potential fall or other life threatening issue.

The tool also provides a way for a Boomer-designated family member to receive information about their loved one without monitoring behavior 24/7. “We’ve integrated the solution with digital assistants like Alexa on the Echo smart speaker,” said Deubell. “You can ask, `How is Mom doing today?’ and get an updated response drawn from our app.”

While surveillance cameras can achieve similar aims, Deubell said that nobody likes the Big Brother-ish feeling they’re being watched in their own home. “We wanted a solution that was non-invasive to maintain the dignity of seniors,” he explained.

Fully In Charge

With new technologies on the rise, aging in place might just relieve some of the financial and emotional constraints placed on families, society, and healthcare institutions to care for aging Boomers.

It might also improve the lives of those that make their way to triple digits. “I fully plan to live past 100,” said Shenker, who is today a spry 60. “And I also plan to be fully in charge of how I live my life.”

Russ Banham is a Pulitzer-nominated financial journalist and author.

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