Could tech enable Americans to live longer?
From tablets to smart lights to much-needed medical alerts, U.S. seniors are warming up to new technology tools. That’s good news for their lifestyle and health outlooks, and for their caregiving family members.
That’s the case even with older seniors who may be either in or heading into a senior care experience. Family members and seniors may not give much thought to how technology can improve an older family member’s “later in life” experience, but increasingly, that’s what experts on aging are seeing these days.
“Technologies, such as internet of things (IoT), Ambient/Active Assisted Living (AAL) robots and other artificial intelligence (AI), have been shown to have great potential in fostering independent living, improving mental and physical health, and increasing quality of life,” states “Technology to Support Aging in Place: Older Adults’ Perspectives,” a new study released on MDPI, a Switzerland-based science journal platform. “At the same time, they can also reduce caregiver burden, which can lead to more targeted and better quality care.”
Examples abound showing that tuning into tech tools cannot only extend a senior’s life — it can significantly improve it, as well.
Take these stories from older Americans who donned a Fitbit device in their advancing years:
Lindy Cellucci (59 years old) — Cellucci lost nearly half her weight in five years by her commitment to exercise. During this time, she was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She is now cancer-free but continues to exercise every day by doing yoga, Zumba, swimming, and taking an average of 25,000 to 30,000 steps per day.
Betty Griffith (85 years old) — Griffith has tracked 15,000 steps every day since her daughter gave her a Fitbit device several years ago. Betty routinely walks over 100,000 steps every week by starting her day on the treadmill, doing her own yardwork, and running errands downtown. Her latest goal? Trying to hit 10,000 steps before her 9:00 a.m. morning coffee.
Jessica Slaughter (86 years old) — After receiving a Fitbit Alta as a gift from her granddaughter, Slaughter began walking around her apartment to get 3,000 steps per day and also became a vegan. Jessica has lost a total of 120 pounds, and her inspirational story has been featured on People.com.
A longer and easier life
Is it really all about living better through technology for U.S. seniors? Technology experts on the front lines seem to think so.
“Technology not only has a place among the youth but also plays a role in making the lives of seniors easier,” says Joe Flanagan, fitness app developer at GetSongBPM, an online music download platform that specializes in “beats per minute” content. “In fact, with the right technology at their disposal, senior citizens may even experience an extended lifespan.”
Flanagan, who designs and develops tempo-related fitness and health apps, says he sees more seniors using digital tools for lifestyle reasons and for life and health reasons.
“Smartphones are making it easier for seniors to keep in touch with family and friends,” he says. “Panic buttons on smartphones are giving seniors the ability to quickly notify someone that they are in need of help — when early intervention is provided in a case like a stroke or another situation, then treatment tends to be more successful.”
Devices like Amazon Echo make it easier for seniors to manage their homes and electronic gadgets, Flanagan says. “A simple voice command can help a senior switch on a light at night, ensuring they do not accidentally fall over something, which could be harmful to an older individual,” he notes.
Better mental and physical health
Health care providers are also starting to see families leverage the benefits of technology tools for senior care, and are beginning to steer older Americans to helpful gadgets as part of their patient oversight practice.
“Recent technological advancements also allow for data about the patient to be submitted to a cloud platform, allowing a physician to have live feedback on blood pressure, glucose, and many other factors that helps them with providing better care to the patient,” says Flanagan.
Technology can also help seniors curb mental health issues like loneliness and depression by helping them better engage with family and community in a digital way.
“The greatest advantage of seniors who learn to use technology is the ability to connect to people around the world and form a community to support them so they are not isolated,” says Catherine O’Connell, CEO of Forever Fierce Media, a digital media company that works with national brands to produce message-based content for the 40-plus demographic (the company’s last project included women from 50 to 70 years of age). “Research shows us that isolation causes depression. Learning how to utilize a platform such as Facebook and finding a like-minded, supportive community can be a lifesaver for older adults.”
Learning to use an iPad or Kindle to download books is another good way to help older adults continue to learn and stay active and mentally and emotionally engaged.
“One of the greatest problems facing seniors is their aging brains,” O’Connell says. “Keeping our minds active and learning new skills while educating ourselves through technology, allows older seniors to rewire their brain, creating neural pathways and helping to keep diseases like Alzheimer’s at bay.”
O’Connell says she’s personally witnessed older Americans — some even in their 90s — use technology to connect personally with people they may have otherwise never met.
“I interviewed a man named Jerry Rosenblum, 97, on my show and became friends with him,” she says. “At 97, Jerry is learning to use technology, including an iPhone and a popular Instagram account that was started for him by his best friend who is a Millennial. Having a presence on social media has opened up many opportunities for Jerry including becoming an author this year at 97,” says O’Connell.
“You really are never too old to learn new tricks or new ways to use technology to improve your life,” O’Connell adds.
The bottom line on seniors and technology tools
There’s no doubt that more and more seniors are plugging in and logging on to lead easier, more efficient, productive, and healthy lives.
A 2017 study by Pew Research says that the number of smartphones bought and used by U.S. seniors more than doubled from 2013 to 2017. Additionally, 67% of Americans over the age of 65 log on to the internet on a regular basis. That’s up from 14% in 2000.
“Technology helps seniors stay in touch with others, call for help quickly, and even control electronics like lighting and the television without having to get up,” Flanagan says. “Above all, digital products and services are aiding seniors in extending their lives, as well.”
Nobody’s saying that older Americans are embracing technology with the vigor of a 30-year-old Millennial. The fact is, though, seniors are turning to technology in greater numbers than many may have predicted.
Those numbers will continue to grow as the Baby Boomers — 72 million strong — continue to hit retirement age and, at the same time, keep hitting “play” on their mobile music apps and catching up with what their grandchildren are doing on Instagram.
And that’s before they get out of bed for their morning coffee.