The Longevity

3 Ways the Tech Revolution is Gaining Traction with Seniors and Caregivers

“Aging-in-place technology is helping to improve the aging experience for seniors and family caregivers,” say Sally Abrahms, in a new piece written for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report.

Whether already in use or still being tested, aging-in-place technology is improving the aging experience for seniors and family caregivers. Part of the reason: the development of artificial intelligence, or AI, and “big data.” With AI, devices can react like humans after assessing a situation and learning someone’s habits. Wearable gadgets—think Fitbit on steroids—can collect and analyze health data, while medical mini-machines monitor chronic conditions and customize treatment.

“Technology is a game-changer, improving older adults’ independence, engagement and health and reducing their social isolation,” says David Lindeman, director of the Center for Technology and Aging at the University of California, Berkeley. “Technologies we haven’t even thought of today will be on the market in the next few years.”

Adoption rates among caregivers are still relatively low, but there are several signs indicating we are nearing a tipping point when all that will change.

In a 2015 AARP survey, fewer than 10% of family caregivers said they use, or have used, technology for caregiving, but 71% said they were interested.

In the coming years, aging tech is likely to follow the pattern of smartphones, which gained traction in people’s lives relatively quickly. Stand-alone devices are getting smaller, and apps are increasingly available for smartphones and tablets. Plus, aging technology is getting faster, cheaper and easier to use.

Abrahms breaks down the tech advances for seniors and caregivers into three main trends.

Virtual Reality

Although it began as a teen gaming phenomenon, virtual reality, or VR, is maturing into a technology for older adults. While still in its infancy, VR for seniors is gaining fans among physicians, long-term-care staff, researchers, physical therapists and family members.

For older adults with mobility issues or cabin fever, VR breaks up day-to-day monotony and loneliness, letting seniors “travel”—sky diving or swimming with whales, anyone?—without leaving home.

But VR offers more than just a good time. It’s being studied as a way to reduce physical pain, opioid use, anxiety, stress and social isolation, and to improve mood.

Companies that get a special shout out from Abrahms for targeting this VR market for seniors include: RendeverAloha VRSamsung Electronics America

Social Robots

Although Amazon Echo’s virtual assistant Alexa clearly leads the smart home pack, Google, Apple are Android have also come out with their own versions and are angling for market share. And those are just the big names. Startups are making their play as well.

These devices are multiplying. A 2016 report from market research company Tractica predicts that 100 million consumer robots will ship between 2015 and 2020—including bots that vacuum and mow the lawn.

Robots are not limited to stationary personal assistants, however. They can be like a pet, or provide a vital medical purpose like an exoskelton.

Some startups that Abrahms notes are paying attention to the specific need of the senior market include:

Virtual Assistants: Jibo and ELLI Q

Robotic pets: Front Porch and Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets

Rehabilitative / mobility robots: ReWalk Robotics

Digital Health Tech

Digital health technology is on the verge of exploding and the senior market is no exception to this, despite the conventional wisdom that this demographic is tech-resistant. This category is, as our regular readers know, a regular focus of ours at The Longevity Network. It also encompasses a staggering array of products and services.

“Connected” health technology is a godsend for people who want to grow old in their homes and retain their independence. According to an industry report by MarketResearch.com, the market for connected smart sensors is expected to reach $117 billion by 2020. Health tech lets users get help in an emergency with mobile medic alert–like personal emergency response systems [PERS]; track health and habits via wearable devices that gather biometric cardiac, respiratory, sleep and activity data; and monitor chronic conditions. It also lets patients speak with doctors remotely in real time (known as telemedicine), partake in virtual rehab, anticipate falls and manage medication.

Through GPS, sensors, chips, cameras, voice activation, cellular connectivity and smartphone monitoring apps, technology provides a way to share information and offers peace of mind to family caregivers and loved ones.

Some notable startups in a few of these different digital health for senior sub-categories include:

Health monitoring tech: AliveCor

Mental health and wellbeing:Posit’s Brain HQ, Rosetta Stone’s Fit BrainsGrandCare and Independa

Medication Management: Medminder, Reminder Rosie, e-PillPillPack and Proteus Digital Health

Smart contact lenses: NovartisMedella Health