As we age, it’s important to maintain our independence and continue doing the things that make us feel connected. Even more precious than material possessions are the treasured connections we have in our own homes – where relationships with family and neighbors create a sense of belonging within the world around us.
Many seniors have a desire to stay in their homes and communities as they age. According to AARP’s recent survey, 3 out of 4 adults age 50 or older want just that – the ability to stay where they know, surrounded by friends and family while nurturing their independence. With the right resources and tools, families can help create safe and accessible living spaces for their older loved ones so they can continue to live in their own homes as long as possible.
Evaluate your at home safety options
If you are unable to personally look after your loved one, hiring a trained companion is one way to have someone checking on them. But what do you do during the hours when your loved one is alone? This is where current technology can help close the gap in fighting social isolation. Personal health monitoring technology has come a long way in the last few years, providing some great options specifically designed for lifestyle and living environments. As with any safety technology, it is always recommended to consult with a doctor for any recommendations regarding current health concerns, so you can choose the system that meets your needs.
Here is some information about a few of the latest at-home safety options you can discuss with your doctor.
Medical Alert Systems
Medical alert systems equip seniors and those with disabilities with the necessary tools to allow them to call for help in a medical situation. These life-saving devices boast a range of features to help keep our older generation safe, such as GPS tracking, automatic fall detection and two-way voice communication for quick assistance during an emergency. With these technologies, family members can be assured that their loved ones have access to immediate help when needed.
When choosing a medical alert company, you need to make sure that the features the company provides fit your loved one’s situation. If they have memory issues, you want to make sure they have GPS tracking, as your loved one might be prone to wandering off, or if they may be prone to falling, you need to ensure they have fall detection. Elderly that wear an emergency contact pendant, should choose one that automatically calls a support service via a two-way communication feature.
Practice with your loved one
Make sure to walk your loved one through the process of using the 2-way alert pendant by conducting a test run. Just contact your provider to let them know you’re going to have your loved one conduct a dry run by using the pendant; this way, if an emergency situation does happen, your loved one will have real-life experience of using the system.
Before choosing a provider, it’s best to consult with their doctor to identify various situations where your loved one might be at risk and make sure the company you choose addresses these risks. Finally, before settling on one company, reach out to friends and family who might have a loved one that already uses these services for feedback.
Home Security Systems
Our older population, who may be frail or have suffered an injury, tends to be in a very challenging position. Frailty can be described as physically weak; however, it is also manifested through a loss of independence. This loss can affect how they think and perceive the world around them, conveying a feeling of vulnerability. For most elderly people, their home is their refuge from the world where they don’t feel vulnerable. It shapes their identity, which relates to how they view the world.
One of the main key benefits of the elderly living in their own refuge is the feeling of safety. Your home is often viewed as your castle, and the mindset behind that is your castle protects you from a harsh world, giving you a feeling and sense of overall safety. This is a key component to the “aging in place” concept. You can’t live comfortably at home unless you feel safe, and one of the best ways to create that feeling is with a home security system.
Include yourself in the notification settings
Some security systems allow for notification via an alarm app on your mobile if the alarm is triggered. If someone comes to your elderly loved one’s door, you have the option of speaking with them directly via the doorbell camera and speaker.
The last security issues include smoke, CO2, and fire. Many home alarm systems are also able to detect the presence of smoke and fire and alert emergency responders when detected. Just make sure you get the same notifications on your app and/or that the security company calls you directly the moment an alarm is triggered.
This may be a lot of work to set up, but it’s worth it knowing that your loved one and you will sleep more soundly with these extra layers of protection.
Monitors and Sensors
Before our world was inundated with advanced technology, people who got lost or suffered a fall at home had to either rely on the kindness of strangers to help them get home safely or make sure their phone was in a place from which they could reach it. Thankfully, we live in a day where there is technology that protects against these situations and provides a new level of safety for our aging and disabled populations.
Today, there are dozens of reputable companies that provide a wide range of solutions to help with these problems. In addition, smartphone technology is at a place where some of these safety features and services are built into or added to their phones.
Awareness helps with fall prevention
The CDC lists the following conditions that make someone more likely to fall:
- Lower body weakness
- Vitamin D deficiency – (not enough vitamin D in your system)
- Difficulties with walking and balancing
- The use of medicines, tranquilizers, sedatives, antidepressants, and some over-the-counter medications.
- Vision problems
- Foot pain or poor footwear
- Home hazards such as:
- Un-even steps
- Rugs that move and are not fixed in place
- Clutter around the house
According to the CDC when concerning keeping older adult safe, they have stated: “Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors; the more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling. Healthcare providers can help reduce a person’s risk by addressing the fall risk factors listed above.”
Some of these things you can address on your own, but it is highly recommended that you have a discussion with your healthcare provider concerning fall risks.
Health Tracking Devices
Since the onset of the Covid pandemic, the adoption of health tracking devices has soared. According to Indira Venkat, Vice President of Consumer Insights at AARP, “With more people aged 50 and over owning and using technology, we may start to see an increase in older adults utilizing apps to monitor their health and safety.”
The adoption of innovative health tracking apps and devices helps bring families peace of mind, with real-time updates on the condition of their older loved ones. Such powerful tools provide vital information, such as heart rate, blood pressure readings, sleep patterns, and more that can be monitored daily.
When asked about keeping our elderly population safe, Pearl Lee, M.D., M.S., a geriatrician at Michigan Medicine, stated: “Now that most older adults have at least one mobile device, health-related apps can provide an opportunity to support their health-related behaviors, manage their conditions, and improve health outcomes.”
If you are in the market for a health tracking device, it is very helpful to discuss this with your doctor to determine if there are specific data points they would like to be tracked. This way, you can see if there is a device available for that. Generally, these devices fall under four categories.
- Fitness trackers: Typically track heart rate, blood pressure, daily activity, sleep cycles, and many other features.
- Thermometers: Body temperature can tell you and your doctor a lot about your health.
- Medical Alert Systems: As mentioned earlier, these devices can track and alert you or emergency personnel if there is a fall.
- Heart Rate Monitors: Your active and resting heart rate can provide a wealth of information with regard to your overall health. Being able to track it over the course of days would enable you to keep your doctor better informed, which will help them assist you.
Essentially, this technology enables family members to help track their senior family member’s state of health; it allows your doctor to be more informed, and also helps provide another layer of protection in case of a fall. This provides an additional feeling of safety for your loved one and you with a little more peace of mind.
On-Demand Companion Services
On-demand, online companion service scheduling is the latest technological innovation in the companion service industry, which places control in the hands of loved ones while providing them with a wealth of options. They provide easy access to an online scheduling system 24/7, allowing users to select desired dates and times for services. The family can also help match their loved one with companions who have similar interests; so if your loved one enjoys scrapbooking, old records, or walks in the park, your matched candidates will include these same interests.
These types of scheduling systems can be accessed via any smart device, such as a mobile phone, laptop, and tablet. The system typically displays a calendar so you can compare it to your weekly itinerary, which will help you fill the gaps in your own schedule and ensure that your loved one has a companion with them at the times you specify.
More than a taxi service
These services can also provide a driving service, with the added bonus of the driver being a trained companion. So if your loved one needs a ride to the doctor, pharmacy, or to be picked up from the hospital, an on-demand companion can be scheduled to help transport them, with the bonus of them being able to stay with your loved one after transport home, for as long as you need. If your loved one needs a ride to and from the hospital, the companion can take them and then wait with them before driving them back home.
When choosing an on-demand companion service provider, always make sure their companions are employees and not independent contractors, so you have the added protection of the staff being insured for an additional layer of financial safety and peace of mind from a liability perspective.
Finally, ensure that the company has a thorough vetting process for its companions, including background checks and a screening process that ensures their employees are warm-hearted, responsible, and well-suited for the role of companion.
Technology is a powerful tool that can bring us closer together, even when geography might keep us apart. By providing our elderly loved ones with the necessary digital gadgets, apps or online services, they need to remain safe, independent, and healthy, we give them freedom while also having peace of mind knowing their wellbeing is secure. This enables us all to cherish those moments spent together for years to come!
Resources, Gadgets and Tools to Care for an Older Adult at Home
Technology to Support Aging in Place: Older Adults’ Perspectives
Older Adult Fall Prevention
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