Virtual bubbles float gently across the table in front of the players, who race to pop as many as they can before they escape.
“That one is kind of fun.”
Andrew Carle is the executive director of The Virginian, a senior living community in northern Virginia, who’s witnessing how simple games –implemented through new technology for seniors– are making a big difference for his residents.
“For those of us who work with seniors every day,” he said, “we can see these applications that can – in some cases – dramatically improve their quality of life.”
The facility recently implemented Obie for Seniors, an interactive gaming system that uses a projector combined with motion sensors to transform walls, floors or tables into an interactive video game area—all to encourage active play, interactivity and cognitive stimulation. That kind of opportunity is especially valuable for the residents at Carle’s facility.
“I knew this was something that could be a perfect fit, exactly what we’re trying to do down there, which is combine all the high-touch elements of memory care with these technologies that can make a tremendous difference,” he said.
Tech for seniors serves a greater purpose
The games available through Obie are more than simple distractions or entertainment options, however. The platform, which was created by Israel-based EyeClick, has been designed to serve older adults, especially those facing Alzheimer’s and related dementia, by slowing cognitive decline and improving fine-motor skills.
The company conducted some early research of its own, surveying caregivers and members of management from more than a dozen senior care facilities. The report found improvements across many important metrics that impact quality of life for residents:
- 94% of respondents reported general improvement in the residents’ overall well-being after using the technology.
- 85% reported an increase in social behavior.
- 88% of respondents rated the residents’ cognitive improvements as four or five on a five-point scale.
- 97% reported an increase in movement by the residents after using the technology.
Another important benefit is the accessibility to residents, regardless of their technical know-how or their comfort level socializing with others. Carle said he sees amazing potential for those residents who might be more introverted and would otherwise miss out on many of the organized activities.
“This is the kind of thing in a dementia setting where it’s very empowering for a resident to boost their self-esteem to just pull up a chair and start playing something,” he said. “It’s all about making those connections … Anything that can address apathy, boredom and help improve their ability to communicate what’s going on is a good thing.”
Growing older adult population drives new advances
Virtual reality, robotic pets, even smart toilets—technology tailored for the rapidly growing older adult population is booming. In fact, the Consumer Technology Association expects the market for wellness and fitness tech for seniors to reach $900 million by next year, part of a $30 billion industry that includes safety, remote care and smart innovations for what the organization deems the “active aging” industry.
The growing demographic has created a healthy demand for new advances, which is a win-win for both the companies investing in new technologies and the patients and caregivers who can take advantage.
“We’re in the early innings of what’s going to be a very large market,” Jake Nice, former principal at Nationwide Ventures, told CNBC.
The CTA estimates 80% of seniors own a smartphone, which means technology will certainly play a much larger role in the care of these older adults.
“As people seek to stay active, healthy and independent as they age, this presents some unique opportunities for tech companies, app developers and retailers,” wrote Coleen Sterns Leith for CTA. “Active aging supported by technology is the key to finding and maintaining quality of life for many seniors.”
Fun activities lead to data-backed benefits
Carle said he’s most excited to learn from the empirical research the company is conducting and also analyzing the data being collected from the Obie for Seniors unit at his facility. The system tracks how long residents engage with it, which games they’re choosing, and even which activities have the greatest impact on the various stages of dementia.
Yet, even after only a few weeks in use, he’s already confident he’ll see the same positive benefits with his residents that others have experienced.
“Right now, it’s observational and anecdotal,” he said. “I’ve just been watching their faces. Once they get going, so far, what we’ve observed is the engagement … Simply by moving your hands around a table, you’d be kind of amazed how much you can learn.”