The smarter home can help senior citizens

It was not that long ago that when working at a nursing facility, staff felt very confident in feeling that our home was “cutting edge” when the activity director announced she had bought a Wii game console for the residents. After recruiting a student from the nearby high school to install the system, the staff instructed our soon to be, very tech savvy resident’s on how to hold the controller as we loaded the disc and settled in for an afternoon of virtual bowling, golf and cow riding. Boy, have times changed.

While care facilities continue to embrace the modern age, there has also been significant growth in the development of equipment focused on making one’s home “smarter,” thereby enabling people to age successfully in their own home. Despite the widespread thought that the elder shies away from digital technology, figures from the Pew Research Center found for that more than half of adults 65 and older after familiarizing themselves with technology, made visiting the digital world a regular occurrence (Pew Research older adults and technology).

Furthermore, gerontologist Katy Fike said, “The aging-in-place technology field is exploding, it’s big business and experts believe this market could reach in excess of $30 billion in the next few years” (Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, March 2015).

It seems that almost weekly, new technology is being introduced for the elder and his family to help the elder remain safe, coupled with informing family caregivers should their loved one required help or support. For example, many of the personal emergency response systems i.e. “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” have been fine-tuned. Some systems now utilize GPS and motion sensor technology that can alert a family member, whether their loved one is able to request help or not, that assistance is needed in the home or community. Homes can now be equipped with sensors so that caregivers can be alerted via text or email if it appears that a parent’s daily routine seems to be altered. There are also medication managers that can serve as reminders for the elder and can also be programmed to alert caregivers and the elder if medications have been missed or taken in error.

It is very exciting that apps, devices and tools are continually being developed to help facilitate a safer and more person-centered home with more opportunity for people to age well in their preferred place of residence. These tools can help both local and distanced children feel a sense of reassurance that their folks are doing “okay”. However, regardless of the level of sophistication of the technology, not even the “smartest home” can take the place of the caregiver if this level of help is needed. As well, it would behoove all parties, to continually check devices, and talk with each other about these tools in the home, particularly if there is some resistance about using these devices. This can help to insure that they are in functioning effectively and utilized as designed. Specifically, the medical alert pendant is of little benefit when kept in the drawer of the nightstand. To quote researcher Tony Barnett Fundamentally, technology is neither good nor bad: it depends on how smartly it is used to serve humanity.

Some examples, not endorsements, nor in any way exhaustive. It is also suggested to do an Internet search on Aging in Place technology to see what works best for you.

1. — smart home.

2. — personal emergency response system.

3. — medication manager

4. — good overview of new technology


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Marci Vandersluis is a licensed social worker and has a master’s degree in gerontology. She is employed as a care manager assisting older adults in the community connect with needed services. Email: