Feeding the Appetite for Innovation in Senior Tech | Opinion

Should older people spend more time online? The answer may come as a surprise to those of us who are experiencing burnout from two years of working at home, distance learning and the associated increase in screen time.

According to a study published in the June 2020 issue Dialogues in Clinical Neurology, computer and Internet use can lead to less loneliness, depression and isolation in aging adults, as well as a greater sense of control over one’s life. Moreover, research has shown increased neural activity and some computer actions – even video games – can improve memory, multitasking skills and other abilities.

As a person who works with the elderly, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory loss issues, I am not surprised. The bigger question is – how else can innovation help provide access to a higher quality of life?

Contrary to popular belief, technology and innovation are not just for young people. In fact, in recent years an increasing number of pioneers have spearheaded a new wave of aid known as older technology. While the tools and techniques are different, one thing that unites them is the emphasis on empowering older people to restore aging and discover new ways to interact with loved ones. This is especially important for those who experience other types of sensitivity and memory problems.

Recognizing the potential of older technologies, our own company has launched the Koelsch Innovation Lab, an initiative that tests new tools and techniques that address aging and integrates them into a systematic care philosophy.

One of the favorites of our residents is a lightweight headset combined with noise reduction technology, which is ahead of hearing aids by light years and opens up the whole world to 50 percent of people aged 75 and older living with hearing loss that exacerbates disability. balance problems, feelings of depression and even the development of dementia.

There is also a TV channel designed for those living with dementia that allows viewers to view content at a soft pace that promotes positive memories and thoughts, a tool that makes it easier to stand on your own without fear of falling, and easily customizable motion detectors that add layer security for the elderly and peace of mind for their families. The lab even faced the problem of deteriorating the health and taste of teeth by developing “Puree for a Purpose”, using culinary science to achieve the seemingly impossible: to make puree attractive and fragrant.

Simply put, there is indeed a drive for innovation of all kinds to support an aging population, and there are good reasons for this. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of older Americans has increased by 36 percent since 2009, compared with 3 percent for those under 65. And the National Bureau of Economic Research predicted in 2019 that the cumulative burden of caring for this cohort of Americans could reduce economic production by 17 percent by 2056.

Efforts across the country are paving the way for individual educators, independent seniors, and others who recognize that overcoming the inevitable physical, emotional, and mental challenges of aging may well be the most important challenge in our lives.

East Side companies – especially in the advanced technology, life sciences and medical devices sectors in our region – have a role to play. There is a need, there is a market.

Most importantly, however, is the knowledge that focusing on quality of life, rather than simply correcting disease, can be the basis for improving health care outcomes, saving billions of dollars and, best of all, providing a happier and healthier old age for our loved ones and themselves.

Benjamin Surmi is the Director of Education and Culture at Koelsch Communities, a third-generation family business that runs specialized memory care communities as well as independent living communities in Western Washington, including Edmonds, Kirkland, Bellevue and Puyallap.


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