Technology for Independent Living

November 19, 2018 | Aging Services Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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Technology for independent living has come a long way since the LifeCall commercial in which a woman says she has "fallen and . . . can't get up." Such pendants, worn around the neck, are still a part of technology for independent living, but they are now less obtrusive and more fashionable, and they can do more than contact a call center. They also only represent the tip of the iceberg. Technology that once seemed straight out of science fiction is now readily available. Much of the new technology for independent living was developed with younger consumers in mind, but older adults stand to benefit.

As baby boomers age into retirement, the United States will increasingly need independent living and home health care solutions for this population. Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. In 2050, 20% of the developed world's population will be 80 years or older (United Nations). If provisions are not made for independent living, this sudden influx of older adults could overwhelm nursing facilities, not to mention families and other caregivers.

Older adults overwhelmingly prefer independent living. Indeed, 90% of Americans ages 65 or older say they want to age in place (Abrahms "Independent"). Even among adults who require some day-to-day assistance, 82% prefer to stay home (Bayer and Harper). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines aging in place as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level." Thanks to technology, this choice is becoming reality for more older adults.

Older adults' reasons for wishing to age in place include the desire to remain independent and uncertainty about the quality of life and care provided in nursing homes. People also prefer to age at home for financial reasons or because they have emotional attachments to their homes and communities and want to remain close to friends and family. (Cornett and Rhodes)

But for increasing the chances that an older adult might leave the stove on, or experience a fall that no one witnesses, there is no place like home. Aging in place brings a host of risks, such as lack of access to healthcare professionals (Savoy). Technology, however, may reduce these risks. It may also reduce costs and improve older adults' healthcare and ability to remain independent. These technologies may provide peace of mind for already overburdened family members and caregivers. Care team members may spend more time with residents and may be able to complete documentation on location in the client's home, rather than spending time at a computer elsewhere when the day is done (Palmquist). Home care, independent living, and assisted-living providers may be especially interested in this type of technology, but long-term care providers may also be interested in this information if they provide remote monitoring.

If the decision is made to implement technology for independent living, several barriers must be addressed. These barriers include challenges to acceptance of technology by...

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