About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve in-home care for American seniors?
Essay response by Sara Fleischer
Technology is an interesting thing. It connects us to people, and at the same time draws us away from each other. Over the last several decades, there have been tremendous technological advancements. While the invention of tablets and cell phones have certainly made information more accessible for the younger generations, it is clear that these advancements have not had the same benefits on the lives of senior citizens. One of the challenges of being an elderly person in today’s society is the lack of options for healthy seniors who are not as agile as they once were but are otherwise self-sufficient. Throughout history- and in many places around the world today- the elderly have lived with their grown children, where they could maintain a level of independence without being concerned with finances and physically demanding household chores. However, in modern, western society, it is becoming less and less common for the elderly to live with younger family members, creating a gap in care. This has created a need for nursing homes. Nursing homes are a good idea in theory; however, studies have repeatedly shown that people deteriorate very quickly after being put into such homes, regardless of their overall health and mental status before admission. So, with care facilities being a less than stellar option, and the opportunity to live with grown children slowly dwindling, there are very few options for the mostly independent senior citizen.
With the above difficulties in mind, it stands to reason that the best option for elderly people is for them to be able to stay in the comfort of their own homes, where they raised families and welcomed children and grandchildren into their lives. Of course, living alone in a house can often be overwhelming in terms of upkeep as well as isolating for those who no longer drive. It is high time that the technology that is so beneficial to younger people be adapted for practical use for the elderly. Advancements in certain technologies would make in home care more affordable and efficient than it has ever been before. Something that would be very beneficial would be to install smart technology into the homes of seniors.
Smart home technology could be controlled by an intuitive touchpad or by a computer application. It is something that could automatically lock doors, control lights, and set alarms for different times throughout the day, such as when to take a medication or feed the cat. This system could also provide appointment options for cleaning services, medical exams and transportation services, as well as grocery delivery, without the hassle of looking up individual phone numbers and making lengthy phone calls. There would also be the option of having video appointments with physicians to discuss ongoing conditions, vital signs, and any emergent health concerns, thereby cutting out the middle man and providing the fastest possible care to concerned patients. Eventually, seniors might be able to qualify for vitals wristbands, which would be able to take basic vital signs and blood sugar readings which would then be forwarded to the patient’s doctor. Additionally, there could be emergency call buttons placed strategically throughout the house for any type of medical or security emergency, like “life-alert” for those who are deemed accident prone. This alternative infrastructure would be a very viable alternative to typical live in helpers, as care could be easily arranged on an as needed basis for those who do not need around the clock support, cutting costs and increasing independence where applicable.
Another issue that is prominent in the older community, especially among widows and widowers, is loneliness. With the smart technology mentioned above, these isolated seniors would have the opportunity to join digital interest groups (such as book clubs or gardening groups), chats, and support groups, among other things. Mostly, it would give these people the opportunity to meet others in their community without transportation barriers or lack of opportunity. Ultimately, these options would allow for older people to stay in their homes for as long as possible, without the isolation and difficulty that comes with maintaining a house alone. As time progresses, modern society will continue to present new and complicated challenges, but with the right innovations, advances in technology have the ability to benefit every person, regardless of their age.
Sara is a sophomore at the University of La Verne, a small liberal arts school in Los Angeles County.