As medicine advances and extends life expectancy, more people are living longer than ever before. Joseph Coughlin, the director of the MIT AgeLab, states “The longevity economy is older adults, which starts at age 50 for most of us, and makes up a $7-to-$9 trillion economy. The 50+ group is responsible for 70% of disposable income in the U.S. and the 60+ group is responsible for 30% of wealth around the world.” Gerontechnology is defined by the International Society for Gerontechnology as “designing technology and environment for independent living and social participation of older persons in good health, comfort and safety.” Gerontechnology has traditionally focused on improving physical health, with the development and promotion of medication monitoring apps and safety alert systems.
In recent years, there has been a shift to promote emotional and mental health and adopt a holistic approach to aging. Chaiwoo Lee, a researcher at the AgeLab, notes that people are trying to move away from medicalizing health and that “older adults care about being connected to family and staying productive.” Through her research on caregivers, Chaiwoo has found that one of their most time-consuming tasks is “keeping older adults company and managing emotional burden.” By enhancing seniors’ social life and connectivity, gerontechnology can help seniors avoid depression, boredom, and loneliness.
Here are five new technologies that broaden seniors’ minds and address their social and emotional needs.
1. Eversound: Eversound makes wireless headphones that can be customized to each person, which is useful in senior living communities that involve group events (movies, bingo, lectures) where each person has a different hearing capability. Each headphone set has a customizable volume control dial. The audio source – movies, speakers, music – gets broadcast directly to each person’s headphones. Using the headphones also improved senses beyond hearing, as seniors experienced increased touch, dexterity, and visual interactions. The headphones are compatible with hearing aids and can be set up in minutes. The headphones can also be charged in a portable carrying case. This technology increases social engagement for seniors in group events as well as individually by promoting awareness and independent behaviors.
2. iN2L: It’s Never 2 Late believes in ‘dignity through technology’ and has designed an intuitive touch screen computer that seniors can easily use and enjoy. It simplifies the complex functions of a computer and utilizes large fonts and pictures. Each computer system has content libraries for seniors to cultivate social connection, knowledge acquisition, physical activities, and emotional support. iN2L has been used as a therapy tool for seniors who are difficult to reach through traditional therapy approaches. This comprehensive computer is designed for seniors to be independent and engaged with the world around them.
iN2L is in Denver and offers technical support and demonstrations of their system.
3. Rendever: Rendever utilizes virtual reality to bring seniors together, allowing them to experience old memories as well as create new ones. The headsets can be used by seniors to explore a new part of the world together, generating a shared experience and forming a new relationship that can be carried on in real life. Seniors are no longer confined to their location, and can use Rendever to participate in family events virtually.
Rendever is a Boston-based company who seeks to expand the world for seniors.
4. Care Dryers: Care Dryers provides an elegant solution to a subtle problem that can affect seniors everyday – discomfort drying after a bath. This task requires physical movement and contact that may be difficult for seniors who have limited mobility and sensitive skin. The Care Dryer uses an on/off switch for a system of fans, heaters, and infra-red lamps to dry a person with little or no movement in less than four minutes. In addition, the heat helps ease joint-related pains and aches. HEPA filters and a UV panel in the dryer eliminate bacteria in the warm air stream. The Care Dryer can improve the bathing experience for seniors, helping them maintain good hygiene practices and not feel inhibited by physical movement constraints.
Care Dryers is available in the UK and North America, and can be rented or purchased.
5. OhmniLabs: OhmniLabs has created Ohmni, a telepresence robot to help seniors feel more connected to their family and friends beyond a phone or video call. The robot is a physical embodiment of the senior, who can control the robot without having to leave their home. This also gives more flexibility for the receivers of the ‘call’ to be hands-free, enabling a more natural depiction of real life for the senior to be part of. The simple setup uses WiFi and no software. Ohmni consists of a tablet, a navigation camera, and a front-facing camera, and is human height to best mimic an in-person experience. Ohmni is light, foldable, and easy to carry around to different locations.
Winnie S. Wong (@iluminatadrop) is a 6th year Ph.D. Candidate in Biomedical Engineering at Boston University. She seeks to increase accessibility to science for a broader audience through innovative technology or effective writing. In her free time, she enjoys photography, yoga, Konmari’-ing, and thinking about food.
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