Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Using technology to increase independence & living life

Written by Behnaz Sarrami, MS, PharmD, medical science liaison, Precision Medicine TL1 predoctoral clinical research program alumnus & Emily Somerville, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor of occupational therapy and neurology, Program in Occupational Therapy, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Every May, since 1963, Older Americans are celebrated for the challenges they have overcome and the contributions they have made to our society. In an era when technology is ever developing, this year, there is a need to highlight how this technology can be used to help older adults and their caregivers live more independently and safely in their homes and communities. Research also tells us that technology can help older adults achieve their desire to contribute to their society.

Technology to help seniors stay in their own home safely and independently has existed for many years.  For example, medical alert systems were developed in the early 1970s. These kinds of systems connect people to help in case of an emergency (e.g., a fall). There has been much development since then. Now, by using Artificial Intelligence (AI), technology systems can incorporate data in real time to make decisions and intervene in the lives of older adults. For example, imagine having a system installed in your home that monitors your daily habitual movements such as when you normally get up, when you get your coffee, and how long you typically stay in each spot. These types of devices can also detect sound or determine if a person has been on the floor for too long. It can use facial recognition to determine if an unfamiliar face is in the home. If any of these unwanted scenarios occur or if there is a variation in a daily routine, the system sends an alert to a predetermined individual (e.g., son or daughter).

Biomedical wearable sensors help older adults to monitor their health, including vital signs and can alert caregivers in the case of an emergency.  AI-powered virtual assistants also provide medication reminders, monitor stove use, and alert a caregiver if their loved one doesn’t get out of bed. Wearable devices such as Apple Watches or CarePredict are also helping older adults stay healthier both physically and mentally. It can detect, early, potentially serious situations before it comes an emergency. It can predict the risk of malnutrition, depression, or potential Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).

Smart technology and AI not only provide new solutions to enhance the quality of life of older adults in the home but their engagement in the community as well. Give 5 is a civic matchmaking program that connects older adults with volunteer opportunities that best suits their skill sets and what they enjoy doing. They offer various classes that help them learn about what types of challenges the community is experiencing and how they can address those social and systemic issues using their unique skills sets. JustServe is another mobile application which connects people with volunteer opportunities in their area.

Smart technology and AI are providing new solutions to keep older adults safe and independent in their homes and engaged in the community. While technology can be intimidating to engage with initially, it is worth the effort to help older adults stay engaged and maintain a good quality of life.

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