Technology has advanced far beyond what many older Americans ever thought it would. When the computer came about with emails and the internet, the Silent generation had to make a decision whether or not to get on board and learn a few new things. Now, the level of technology that is available surpasses a person's ability to need to learn how to use it. Smart home technology has made it possible for medical monitoring and other systems to operate in the background and provide a measure of security that can make a home much safer to grow older in without much effort on the person choosing to age in place.
Telecommunication Interventions Promote Independence
The smart home monitoring systems available today depend on communications systems placed within the home. These systems are made up of bio-sensors placed around and in the home, under flooring and even in bathrooms. The sensors communicate with a program that interprets the data, which in turn can communicate with medical professionals and first responders using monitoring software that caregivers can oversee as well.
This level of technology is still evolving and is mostly available for smart homes and spaces like the Granny Pod. However, researchers with the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology at Massey University published in the Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments (JAISE) that retrofitting a network of sensors into an existing home can be just as effective. While there are still some kinks with regards to the way data is integrated with other external platforms, this step could pave the way for a more largely accepted method to promoting independence for those not able to purchase new smart homes.
Medication Dispensers and Beyond
One way technology is already making the aging in place home safer is through the dispensing of medication. There are pillboxes currently available that use smart technology to remind seniors when it is time to take their medications. Caregivers can log into a secure online account and manage medications through the integrated software that also allows them to manage refills and notice when doses have been missed. Options like the MedMinder and even some Android based mobile phone apps are driving the technology further to look at hybrid tech incorporating both systems to actively monitor and dispense medications in a safe and secure manner.
The newly developed mHealth mobile app has gained the attention of the World Health Organization. Its features include not only prescription reminders, but also the ability to manage healthcare appointments, patient monitoring (think vital signs and health monitoring apps), GPS for those prone to wandering, and even telemedicine services. The use of a two-dimensional and scan-able QR code makes the prescription coding more of a universally compatible data model that allows for the integration of the different features. The way a doctor or pharmacist would scan the barcode is the same way an elderly person would, by simply pointing the phone at the code. Due to the simple nature and functionality of the mHealth programs, just about every country is beginning to implement it as it continues to be a cost-effective and secure solution to better healthcare management.
Privacy Protection and the Cloud
As with any new technology, there is a time frame where ethical issues get hashed out. Protecting privacy rights is one of the hurdles facing smart home technology at the moment. Finding a way to securely store sensitive data is at the top of the list for many leaders in smart home technology. In the meantime, research has been conducted in Taiwan that takes a closer look at cloud-based technology. One benefit of cloud based tech is the ability for others to oversee the management of medications. When researchers surveyed elderly participants, they found they were very open to this sort of technology so long as it remained a patient-centered service.
Having a third party monitor medications could be seen as part of a larger medical security system. When certain behaviors are noticed, professionals could be notified in much the same way as when a home's security system is breached. If a person misses a medication dose, the patient could receive a phone call asking if everything is alright and if they are able to take their medications. Or caregivers could receive text alerts on their mobile device.
As cloud-based technology continues to make improvements in security, smart home technology continues to become more comprehensive. The same monitoring programs that assist with medication dispensing could also monitor the sensor network that tracks falls, vital signs, or carbon monoxide levels within a home and eventually replace the medical alert systems in place today with a single system.
As technology advances, the face of aging is changing and smartphones are taking a prominent role. From newly developed gaming apps designed specifically for seniors to fall-detecting sensors, smart technology is making a way for seniors to stay independent longer and improve the quality of life at home. From a caregivers' point of view, nothing will ever replace face to face care, but technology can ensure less error is made and those you care for are safer when you are away.
JAISE. Towards a Monitoring Smart Home for the Elderly: One Experience in Retrofitting a Sensor Network into an Existing Home (2013). Available at http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-ambient-intelligence-and-smart-environments/ais233. Last Visited May 4, 2016.
Technology and Health Care. A Cloud Medication Safety Support System Using QR Code and Web Services for Elderly Outpatients (2014). Available at http://content.iospress.com/download/technology-and-health-care/thc00778?id=technology-and-health-care%2Fthc00778. Last Visited May 4, 2016.
WHO. mHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies (2011). Available at http://www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_mhealth_web.pdf. Last Visited May 4, 2016.
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