Caring for a booming senior population: How tech helps and hurts

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Peter Ross
Peter Ross

Technology is changing how we care for seniors, and with the number of seniors in the U.S. expected to double by 2050, entrepreneurs are investing in new technologies designed specifically for the senior population. This trend has the potential to improve the lives of not only seniors, but also those who care for America's aging population as well.

A recent Pew study analyzing seniors and technology is telling of this trend. Pew found that 77% of seniors have cell phones, and now more than half of all older adults (65 and older) are online. It has also been widely reported that social media usage by seniors (i.e. Facebook, Twitter and Skype) is the largest growing demographic.

But the trend doesn't stop there. Nurses and caregivers are also using technology to improve the lives of seniors. Technology can improve transitional care from a hospital to a rehabilitation facility or home by allowing multiple individuals access medical files instantly. Seniors often have a large team providing care such as doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and caregivers, and technology helps all providers to be on the same page — which is truly critical to their health.

There are also a plethora of new devices and applications that can be used to keep seniors healthy such as memory games on tablets. Caregivers and nursing assistants, however, are key to facilitating these games — as many seniors have difficulty using their hands due to arthritis. In particular, it is important that a caregiver or nursing assistant matches the game level with the stage of Alzheimer's or dementia the senior is experiencing. Otherwise seniors end up overstimulated and overwhelmed, causing them to experience anxiety, confusion and sometimes even aggression.

Technology can also be used to maximize seniors' quality of life. Depression is common among seniors living at home or in long-term care facilities, if they are far away from their families. Innovations such as Skype, however, help keep families connected virtually even though they may be thousands of miles apart. Critical to using Skype, however, is the caregiver or nurse assistant. Turning on the computer, going online, logging into Skype and setting up the camera is not a simple process for most seniors. But with help, it can provide the encouragement every resident and family need.

Technology undoubtedly is an important tool when caring for seniors, but it is by no means a replacement for those providing day-to-day care.

As one Senior Helpers owner in Colorado described: A gentleman had fallen in the night and within minutes the Senior Helpers caregiver called both 911 and the gentleman's family. The caregiver got him a pillow to ensure he was comfortable and sat by his side until his family arrived.

That care and companionship simply cannot be replaced by technology.

Peter Ross is the CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers, a national provider of in-home senior care services, and the president of the Home Care Association of America. Ross also plays an advisory role on the board of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
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