AgeTech helps improve the health and social life of older people

Christine Bryant Correspondent of the Times

As the world’s population ages, technologies designed for the needs of the elderly are emerging.

Yet conspicuously absent from many mainstream conversations about tech innovation are those that cater specifically to this demographic.

Known as AgeTech, this growing category is built around the needs and wants of older adults, improving their lives in the process. Some estimates put this tech sector at between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, according to AARP.

“Since the pandemic stopped, seniors’ adoption of technology has catapulted, and it’s been a lifesaver in so many ways for seniors,” said Melissa Caldwell of WestShore Senior Living, management company for Residences Senior Living in Schererville and Chesterton.

In recent years, technology has not only served as a social link, but has also become an essential tool for monitoring health status among the elderly.

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“There are even apps that help seniors order food directly to their home and grocery stores that allow you to order and receive groceries, not to mention some of the big pharmacies that deliver medications,” Caldwell said. “They reduce reliance on meal programs like Meals on Wheels and have definitely helped increase access to meals for those who struggle to leave the house or cannot cook for themselves due to mobility limitations.”

Evan Mead, business operations manager with Franciscan Senior Health & Wellness – PACE, says several seniors are using the GrandPad, a tablet designed for older adults. One can use the device to communicate with family members or caregivers through audio and video calls, as well as surf the web and even call emergency services if needed.

“We have one participant at our center in Michigan City who is currently using the GrandPad,” he said. “She enjoys using her device to communicate with her family, especially her grandchildren, and to keep in touch with her caregivers during periods of time when she is home alone.”

Other residents use Libre Blood Sugar Monitoring, which allows them to monitor their blood sugar through a portable sensor. The device offers an alert when a person’s blood sugar is out of a set range, Mead said.

“Many of our participants with diabetes use this device so they can continuously monitor their sugars and respond to alerts when needed when they’re not at the center with us,” he said.

Natalie Reisen, director of sales and marketing at the Residences at Coffee Creek, said several residents use apps on their Apple Watches or smartwatches to monitor heart rate, detect car accidents or simply get directions.

“They also offer reminders to get up and move and drink water throughout the day,” she said. “You can download a bunch of apps that can send reminders to the watch that vibrates so the senior can remember to do health-focused things.”

While Apple tags are often used for luggage, Reisen says they can be valuable resources for something as minor as a lost bag or wallet, or something as important as making sure your loved one arrives safely at their destination .

“I always encourage family members to put one of these tags in the vehicle their loved one drives if they are elderly,” she said. “It’s a great peace of mind to be able to look at your phone and see if mom’s home from your house in the evening without calling her and bothering her or doubting her abilities. It only takes one time for someone to get lost , and safety always comes first.”

Other popular apps designed for or that can benefit seniors include Brainwell (daily games and puzzles), Care Alert (tracks medications and sends reminders), Wordle (daily puzzles), Solitaire, and even dating apps , senior-focused like Senior Next and OurTime for social interaction, Reisen said.

Dr. Steven Levin of the Levin Eye Care Center in Whiting says several apps can also involve maintaining eye health, such as ones that remind seniors to use prescribed eye drops or others that use the camera on the text enlargement device.

While apps can help seniors maintain their eye health, Levine says it’s important to follow the 20-20-20 rule when using any type of technology. The 20-20-20 rule involves taking a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away for every 20 minutes of screen time.

“Prolonged and continuous use of mobile phones or screens can strain the eyes if you don’t give them a break,” he said. “To avoid headaches, dry eyes and digital eye strain, take regular breaks, especially during extended screen time.”

He also recommends exploring technology designed to keep people healthy with health professionals providing personalized advice.

Even with new technologies emerging all the time, Mead says technologies like LifeAlert have been around for decades and continue to benefit seniors’ health.

“We recently had a situation where a resident who lives alone in the community fell and needed emergency care,” he said. “He used his LifeAlert to call for help.”

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