Technology is changing everything, including how we will age and the quality of our senior years. Mobile devices, wearable gadgets, and Internet-based technologies will help older adults age in place while monitoring their health and safety. As The Huffington Post celebrates its tenth anniversary, we’ve decided to take a look at the 10 things we expect to see in our technological futures.
1. Talking street signs.
Night driving is a real bugaboo for seniors. Our vision weakens as we age and eventually we reach the point where we don’t trust our ability to find places once the sun sets. GPS systems have given us a little more confidence that we won’t get lost, but what would really be terrific would be talking street signs that announce themselves via our Bluetooth as we approach.
2. Cars that drive themselves.
We know this is just around the corner, so to speak. We’d be happy just to have cars that parallel park themselves.. Automotive technology is working towards making us all safer drivers, but for seniors, there’s an even keener interest: It could easily help keep them safe on the road longer. The ability to drive, many believe, is at the core of independence. Cars of the future will be able to recognize unsafe driving conditions or when the driver isn’t paying attention and make automatic adjustments to steer the vehicle away from a potential accident.
3. The doctor will see you now — on Skype.
Video-call doctors’ visits have already been a boon to those who live in rural areas. Expect that the trend towards more telemedicine will continue. One day we’ll be saying “Remember when we used to have to go into an office to see the doctor?” just like we now say “Remember when doctors used to make house calls?”
4. Remote patient monitoring.
Patients can already check their glucose levels and download the results to their doctors. Watch for the expansion of point-of-care monitoring devices, such as weight scales, heart and blood pressure monitors that send your readings directly to the doctor. In many cases, these devices obviate the need to visit the doctor’s office. Many of the routine services that doctors traditionally have provided in their office are changing. Pharmacies already offer a lower cost way of getting your blood pressure checked and your annual flu shot. Not going to see the doctor also means no co-pays.
5. Online medical records.
Privacy concerns notwithstanding, there is a huge plus to having all your doctors on the same page — literally. Test results can be shared, medical conferencing can be conducted online, and you and your loved ones can all have the same information in front of you. It’s easier to get second opinions when all you need to do is send your test results to another doctor on a secured connection. Specialists who are in different cities or countries can consult with one another. We communicate electronically now anyway. We bank and engage in e-commerce daily. Why not use technology when it comes to medical records? As for the privacy issue, it absolutely exists. But remember: Nobody has ever died from the inappropriate release of a medical record, while plenty have died because people couldn’t get access to this information.
6. Robots as caregivers.
A Japanese engineer has developed a Robot-Teddy Bear. It looks adorable and is intended to perform tasks like lifting an elderly person out of bed and helping them stand up or move into a wheelchair. Robear is the brainchild of Toshiharu Mukai, head of the Robot Sensor Systems Research Team at the Riken-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research since 2007. Health workers perform this lifting task with patients about 40 times a day.
7. Lights, lights and more lights.
Nothing against restaurants that set a romantic mood with candles, but we can’t read your menus. Watch for LED lights showing up in places you never expected — including at the top of the list of specials the chef is featuring tonight. There’s even a Ralph Lauren tote bag with LED lights on the inside to help you see when you go fishing for your pen.
8. Safety monitors that go way beyond nanny-cams.
Future sensors will include information about lifestyle habits and patterns. There will be sensors to alert you if your elderly mom hasn’t turned on her TV in two days when you — and the sensor — know she never misses her favorite shows. How about a pill-dispenser that sends you an email if Mom has missed a dose? Or a motion sensor in the bathroom that reports if Dad has fallen and automatically calls 911 for help? Motion sensors monitor the speed and frequency of movement throughout the house and can let a caregiver know if someone hasn’t gotten out of bed. The sensors can also track when seniors visit the fridge to make sure they are eating. And sensors near the stove know if a pot was removed and the burner left on.
9. Homes will age along with us.
Walk-in tubs, stair lifts, lower cabinets, and waist-high power outlets so the elderly don’t need to bend down to the baseboards to charge their devices are all simple changes in home design that will make aging in place easier. Throw in some smart technology alert systems and many concerns of the elderly are addressed. Expect sensors that alert you to things like the garage door being left open or that the front door is unlocked. Finders for the TV remote, the telephone and your car keys will all be a standard part of home design. Lights will turn on as soon as your feet hit the floor when you get up to use the bathroom at 1 a.m. Appliances will “speak” to each other: Your refrigerator will send your TV a message saying you left its door open.
10. More apps — for everything.
There are apps that help you track weight, exercise, calories, etc. There will be more apps that help you understand your body, your illnesses, your surgeries, your medications and their possible side effects. My Recovery app, designed by a surgeon, would help patients prepare for their operation, to understand what to expect during and after their hospital stay, and to guide them through any necessary rehabilitative physiotherapy exercises individually tailored to their needs. Then there’s Flowy, an app that uses games to help people manage panic attacks. It’s already had one pilot trial that found that users showed a significant decline in symptoms compared to a control group, reported Newsweek. There will be apps with exercises that are prescribed just for you by your physical therapist, who will be able to see whether you’ve done them and send you reminders if you haven’t.