Technology and Design Trends to Support an Aging Population

It is no secret that the developed world is dealing with an aging population. Particularly in the Western world, the massive baby boomer generation is now, or soon will be, among the senior citizens in our society. The impact of having a vastly growing population requiring geriatric and senior care is enormous. As with any challenge, there are many ways design can have a favorable impact on both the quality of care and quality of life. A key factor in quality of life is the desire to remain as independent as possible. In order to achieve this, one must ensure that independent living can be accomplished with safety, comfort, and mental health in mind.

Today’s aging population group is generally in better health than previous generations. This boomer generation is also more technologically advanced than their previous generations, which means they are more comfortable with sophisticated devices and applications. Because of this, advanced technological devices and systems can play a role in allowing the aging population to maintain a high quality of life perhaps longer than that of previous generations.

Design engineers can play a key role in identifying and devising technology solutions that are effective, accessible, and affordable.

Here are a couple of system solutions along with the current challenges (which represent opportunities for improved products and systems) to enable seniors to safely maintain a high quality of life:

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Enabling seniors to remain in their homes longer is not about abandoning them to fend for themselves. Smart home technology can monitor the home environment for safety and security, such as detecting falls, monitoring vital signs, or alerting to potential hazards such as fire or gas leaks. Challenges in the current solutions in the market are that they are poorly integrated and may be missing features needed to ensure safety and health are not being compromised.

There is a need for an integrated system that can be easily packaged and set up. An adjacent paradigm is in the area of ​​home security where systems like SimpliSafe have streamlined the setup and implementation process of home security. They have also done this in a cost-effective manner. Such systems are designed to be simple to set up and manage right out of the box. They can be deployed by those with limited technical knowledge and mechanical skills.

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In addition, robots can be useful. If there is a sense of potential trouble in the home, a robot could also be deployed remotely to find the senior in the home, monitor vital signs, and engage in communication with a person outside the home. One can envision a system where a family member directs the robot to “find mom” in the home leveraging the mapping of the home layout, seeking out the heat signature of the person in the home, and using video recognition to detect if mom is in bed, in a chair, or on the floor and then engage in conversation.

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Technology can help older adults manage their medications more effectively, offering medication reminders, automatic refills, and medication schedule tracking. There are still challenges in that such systems need to be loaded with the appropriate medications with protocols for dosage. Current solutions still require human intervention for “stocking” the system and programming the protocols. The human factor presents the potential for errors, which could have catastrophic effects.

There is a need for a solution that provides end-to-end support that includes:

  • Inventory management of medications and supplements in the home.

  • Loading dispensing systems.

  • Passive reminders for seniors to take their medication.

  • Communication of failure to take medications according to the dosage requirements and timing. This includes communication to parties outside the home such as pharmacies, caregivers, and/or family members.

By leveraging these technologies, older adults can maintain their independence, stay connected, and receive the support they need to remain in their homes safely and comfortably. However, although the optimal solution can readily be envisioned and created using current technology elements, cost and maintenance remain issues. While wealthy seniors may have the ability to buy and deploy these technologies, those with lower income may have difficulty acquiring the technology unless healthcare systems like Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers support these technologies.

Moving forward, design and engineering professionals will need to evaluate costs and potential market size to determine the technology solutions and designs that make the most sense to support seniors wanting to continue to live in their homes.