How smart technology can help seniors live at home longer

If demographic trends continue, by 2037 – just at a time when many Generation X members will begin to take retirement seriously – one quarter Canadians will be over 65 years old.

It’s hard to imagine what retirement will look like for those of us who first watched Ferris on the big screen, but we will almost certainly have one thing in common with generations before us, namely, we want an “age in place” (we live at home) as much as we can.

“We conducted a survey last year and found that 96 percent of the demographics during the boom told us they wanted to stay home,” said Susan D. VanderBent, chief executive of Home Care Ontario. “People don’t want to be in congregations, and they’ve talked about it very clearly.”

Watching the COVID-19 tragedy, which is destroying long-term care homes in the province, has probably strengthened people’s determination, but most people tend to prefer the idea of ​​aging on the spot. And, in fact, most people manage to make it a reality, as VanderBent said only seven percent of older people in Ontario get long-term care.

However, given the tsunami of aging people, we need to strengthen support for home care in the province through a number of initiatives, including investing in appropriate and well-designed smart technologies that can help older people live safely at home. Unfortunately, not all smart technologies can handle this job.

“At heart, I’m a technician, but being able to change the color of lights with a voice command doesn’t really improve someone’s life,” said Bruce Wallace, associate professor of research at Carleton University and executive director of AGE-WELL National Innovation Center.

“Most of them are first-rate solutions to the problems of the first world. But if you can turn this technology upside down and use it to help someone grow old on the spot, now it’s fun. ”

Bruce Wallace is an adjunct professor-researcher at Carleton University and executive director of the AGE-WELL National Innovation Center, an adjunct professor of research and contract instructor, Carlton University and an affiliated investigator at the Brewery Research Institute.

And, not surprisingly, setting up and redesigning existing commercially available smart technologies to help older people is exactly what Wallace and his colleagues from several different disciplines and institutes are working on now, one of many projects being implemented through AGE-WELL , a national network of aging and technology. .

“For one system, we bought home security technology right off the shelf at Home Depot,” Wallace said, referring to a “wandering” system he helped develop to prevent disoriented seniors and the lost from leaving the home. “I’m joking that it’s the same technology, except that instead of preventing hacking, we’re trying to prevent a breakthrough.”

Wallace, who is also affiliated with the Bruyère Research Institute in Ottawa, said there are some fairly common scenarios that could cause wandering. One is as simple as the elderly having to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, an event that occurs most often at night after a certain age.

“The problem is if this senior has some level of cognitive decline, when the two most common symptoms are called‘ time disorientation ’and‘ time disorientation ’,” Wallace said. “So you don’t know when it will be. Or you don’t know where you are. “

Worse is the problem of older people who have recently moved into, say, an adult child’s home after many years of independent living. When they wake up, they don’t know the neighborhood, so they leave the house to try to get home.

However, something as simple as a motion sensor that turns on a light in the bathroom – a simple visual signal that directs them in the right direction – can help them reorient. Wallace’s wandering system uses other clues to continue to gently push them back to safety. The sensors on the front and rear doors, which can alert the care partner of a “breakthrough,” are the latest safe.

This is just one example of the systems these teams of engineers and physicians have worked on. Interestingly, this was a true interdisciplinary approach, and clinicians specializing in aging, such as Dr. Frank Knofel, a physician in the Brewer Memory Program, advise technical teams on the realities of everyday problems and patient needs. . It is driven by patients, not technology, which is key to developing appropriate technological solutions for any scenario, especially in healthcare.

“There are some great examples of this kind of innovation, such as how we see nurses remotely monitoring personal support staff caring for someone’s needs at the end of life at home,” VanderBent said. “So it’s great to use technology in a very mixed way to increase people’s work, but you still need people.”

And at the moment as a result of the pressure of COVID-19 there is a lack of human infrastructure in the field of home care. VanderBent is currently advocating for large investments by the provincial government to help raise wages for domestic workers and attract people to the sector. No matter how smart technology becomes, it can’t be done without people.

“Technology is a help and a supplement to good care,” she said. “But it doesn’t replace interaction between people, decision-making and foresight, and only those relationships that, you know, make people want well because someone cares about them.

“We need the government to start thinking about the home as a place of care and start strengthening our home care system,” VanderBent added. “Technology is a great addition to people, but we have to have people.”

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