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Technology helps seniors age in place — and not feel alone



Kaiser Health News
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Nancy Delano, 80, of Denver has no plans to slow down anytime soon. She still drives to movies, plays and dinners out with friends. A retired elder care nurse who lives alone, she also knows that “when you reach a certain age, emergencies can happen fast.” So, when her son, Tom Rogers, talked to her about installing a remote monitoring system, she didn’t hesitate.

With motion sensors placed throughout the house, Rogers can see if his mom is moving around, if she’s sleeping (or not), if she forgot to lock the door and, based on a sophisticated algorithm that detects behavioral patterns, whether her activity level or eating habits have changed significantly, for instance.

“It gives both of us peace of mind, particularly as she ages and wants to live at home,” said Rogers, who lives near Washington, D.C., hundreds of miles away from her.

At $45-$60 a month (plus an upfront fee of $100 to $200), Alarm.com’s Wellness system is markedly less expensive than options such as hiring a home health aide to check on her or moving her into a retirement community. The average cost of nursing home care exceeds $95,000 a year, while assisted living and in-home care tops $45,000 annually, according to a 2017 Genworth Financial report.

The exorbitant costs of nursing home and assisted living care are driving sales — and innovation — in the technology market, said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and author of “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care.”

For many, the technology offers not just the tools they need to continue to live at home, but newfound confidence and connectedness with faraway family and friends.

Topol calls it “monitored independence,” and it is changing how older generations age in America. “People want to be autonomous, irrespective of age,” he said.

That was certainly the case for Carol Smith, 83, who lives in the Carlsbad by the Sea retirement community in Carlsbad, Calif., with her husband, Ray, 84. “I’m in a wheelchair, so I depend on my husband a lot,” she said.

The Smiths were introduced to the Amazon Echo last February through a pilot program for seniors. Carol is now able to control lights and the thermostat. She can ask Alexa to remind her to take medications, or to call her brother or even to call for help.

“It gives her a great deal of independence,” Ray said. “If for some reason I have to be away, she’s able to function on her own. It’s keeping her safe, but closely related to that, it’s allowing her to be independently safe.”

Voice-assistive technologies like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and HomePod are likely to play a bigger role in helping seniors age in place, especially when paired with apps geared specifically for senior living, predicts Majd Alwan, executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST). AskMarvee, for instance, integrates with Amazon Echo via an online portal to allow seniors to immediately connect with family members for a quick check-in or if something more serious is going on. (The Basic app is free; premium versions cost $15 or $20 per month.)

LifePod, to be introduced later this year, takes voice-assisted technology a step further, said Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch. It will allow users to engage with the device, much like Alexa, but will also periodically check in with them independent of a voice prompt, at preprogrammed intervals: Good morning, Nancy. Did you remember to take your medication?


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