According to the Administration on Aging, in the year 2030 the baby boomer trend will peak at around 72 million. In other words, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65. AARP reports that 73 percent of aging baby boomers want to stay in their current residence for as long as possible as they age. The question is—how?
With the average cost of an assisted living facility at more than $45,731 per year, children of aging adults are finding it necessary to take on the role of caregiver, and attempt to accommodate their aging parents in the comfort of familiar surroundings at home.
Caregivers seek help and support from family, friends and local services to make sure all areas are covered for the emotional and physical safety of aging loved ones. Educating caregivers about what is available for in-home care is the most effective way to help keep loved ones in their home, living independently and as safely as possible. It is imperative for caregivers to plan ahead because one fall could put that independence in jeopardy. Far too often, action is taken after an accident has already happened.
Adult children are finding themselves in this new role of caregiver more often. They are usually aware of the common areas of the home and safety items that need to be addressed (i.e., proper lighting, clear walkways around the home, removal of clutter especially from the hallways and stairs, grab bars in bathrooms, nonslip strips for the tub/shower, placing nightlights in the bedroom and bathroom, etc.). The home will still need a more in-depth assessment in order to make sure even the simplest daily activities are safe and accessible.
Technology, such as medication dispensers, video monitors, motion sensors and smartphones, can let caregivers know when a loved one enters a room, gets out of bed, takes their medication, and to some degree can even detect falls. GPS-enabled devices have the ability to notify caregivers when a loved one wanders out of a designated area or if their usual routine is disrupted. Voice control technology is also making its way into homes with devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. These systems are similar to having an assistant in the home to help with every day activities that would otherwise require caregivers to physically attend to the task. Voice activation can turn the TV and lights on and off, place phone calls, control the thermostats and even provide answers to general questions. In the near future, they will also integrate with emergency response systems.
Smart technology will make aging in place a more viable option for an increasing number of seniors. Most caregivers today are familiar and comfortable with smart technology and this type of “connected independence” will allow caregivers to feel confident their loved ones can continue living safely at home. The “connected independence” offers peace of mind that their loved ones will have easy access for assistance when needed.
The most basic question still remains, “How does someone get help if they fall?” The technology already exists today, a personal emergency response system (PERS). Falls are currently the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. One in 3 people over the age of 65 will fall, and having the ability to summon help as soon as there is an emergency brings greater chance of timely medical attention that can save a life and allow for shorter recovery time at the hospital. People that get help within the so-called, “Golden Hour,” after an incident typically get to go back home instead of into a rehab facility or worse. The longer time goes by without help the more serious the situation becomes.
PERS devices are the most under-utilized piece of technology available today. People always believe that they don’t need a device yet. This is like saying a person doesn’t need car insurance because they haven’t had an accident. The flaw with this line of thinking is you can’t get car insurance after an accident any more than you can push a button you don’t have when lying on the floor. In order to truly age in place the home must be modified and prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Medical alarms have changed with improvements in technology adding new and enhanced features. PERS devices aren’t only for just the home any longer; they now also serve younger and more active seniors with mobile PERS (mPERS). Choosing the right system depends on several factors. If someone is mainly home alone but is usually with someone when they are out and about doing errands etc., then the traditional home-based PERS unit makes sense. Individuals who lead active lives outside the home for activities should consider an mPERS unit that offers GPS. This way they can press the button and speak directly into their pendant to a specialist who will be able to confirm where they are even if they are not able to communicate. Most PERS units now have fall detection as an option.