Monitoring for Safety

Equipping seniors with tech devices creates enhanced safety, connection, and peace of mind

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Fact checked by Derick Wilder

 

A digitized world makes human connection simpler than ever. The ease of tapping into a device to connect with someone is at your fingertips — or even activated by your voice. But for some seniors, navigating the complexities of smartphones, tablets, and home-assistant devices can be challenging, leading to feelings of isolation and exclusion in a world that increasingly relies on digital communication.

“Technology adoption rates continue to increase among this age group,” says Tony LaPalio, founder and CEO of Senior Tech Support, a Wheaton-based company that provides in-home technology support, lessons, and services for older adults. “There are many positive impacts, but among the top would be staying connected with friends and loved ones, continuing to learn new things that promote neuroplasticity in the brain, and interact[ing] with the world from the comfort of home.”

Another added bonus for older adults: safety monitoring.

“We saw this during Covid-19, with high numbers of older adults using engagement platforms,” says Lydia Manning, PhD, social gerontologist, co-founder and CEO of Circle of Life Consulting, Inc., in Downers Grove. “Sensors and fall management technologies can help with safety. [Other] technologies connect older adults to wellness tools such as fitness, mental health support, nutrition, and mindfulness.”

Providing tech devices to seniors living alone can help them feel safer and less isolated, and can assist in assuring adult children that their parents are safe. For loved ones, caregivers, and other advocates, it’s becoming increasingly important to bring technology into older adults’ homes. Here are a few devices to get your loved one started.

SmartwatchSmartwatches

Watches now are certainly ahead of their time. Smartwatches are equipped with advanced features that can monitor health, location, and medication, as well as provide communication, emergency assistance, and customized assistance. They can send real time information to caregivers and adult children, to help them track their loved one’s health and safety, too.

“Wearable devices, smartwatches, and health monitoring apps can help older adults track their vital signs, physical activity, and medication adherence,” Manning says. “These technologies can provide real-time feedback and alerts, enabling individuals to manage their health more effectively and seek timely medical assistance.”

Virtual AssistantVirtual assistants

“Social isolation and loneliness are common challenges among older adults, which can harm their mental and emotional well-being,” Manning says. A way to combat solitude is through virtual assistants and speakers that also aid in memory and cognitive stimulation, information, entertainment, daily task assistance, and home automation.

Technology can also help older adults stay connected through video calls and social media.

Additionally, one of the primary advantages of these smart devices is their voice-activated interface, which makes them highly accessible for older adults who may have limited mobility or dexterity issues. “[Seniors] can simply use voice commands to control various functions without needing to navigate complicated menus or interfaces,” LaPalio says.

Smart home deviceSmart-home devices

Motion sensors, smart locks, and video surveillance systems help families, friends, and other advocates have peace of mind when it comes to aging seniors. They enhance home safety and security for older adults, Manning says. “These technologies can detect emergencies such as falls or intrusions and [can] promptly alert caregivers or emergency services.”

Taking it a step further, smart-home devices can connect to virtual assistants and speakers.

“Smart-lighting systems can integrate with other smart-home devices, such as smart thermostats, security cameras, and voice assistants,” LaPalio says. “This integration allows for seamless automation and control of various aspects of the home environment, enhancing overall convenience and functionality.” Think doorbells with cameras, door locks, and even vacuums. The whole system combines to aid with accessibility, convenience, safety, security, and health and well-being.

Before plunging in, LaPalio suggests doing some research. “Not all devices will communicate with each other, so it’s important to make sure that the products that are purchased are all compatible.”

And once the initial devices are set up, LaPalio says it is important to remember that periodic and ongoing maintenance of these devices and any other technology systems is important to keep them functioning as expected.

“It is essential to ensure these technologies are designed with older adults’ needs and preferences in mind, considering factors such as usability, accessibility, and privacy,” Manning says.

“Providing support and training to older adults to use these technologies effectively is crucial for maximizing their benefits, but we must also respect choice and autonomy when considering when and how older adults use technology.”


Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2024 print issue