Aging In Place

9/1/2023 | By Beth Kuberka

“Wear your heart on your wrist,” quips Beth Kuberka chief development, marketing and communication officer of Tellico Village in Tennessee. Kuberka explains how health tech for aging in place helps keep seniors safer and healthier.

Health tech solutions make aging in place easier for everyone.

Ed Grollemond sees more and more technology on the wrists of his fellow golfers in his East Tennessee community these days.

“More and more of us,” he said, “are embracing technology. We’re looking for new things to help us in new ways.”

The fitness trackers do that. A healthy foursome will probably have a better score than their less healthy counterparts.

But 65-year-old Grollemond knows it’s applicable off the greens. “As you age, you start to notice how your body is changing,” he said recently. “You can also lose friends suddenly.”

A few times a year, Grollemond hosts community tech seminars for his mostly-retired neighbors. Grollemond – an IT consultant – is one of the tech gurus in the area.

Ed and his wife live in Tellico Village, an active senior living community outside Knoxville, Tennessee. They moved there in 2017, building a home they hope to be in for the rest of their lives – a term the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “aging in place.”

They’re not alone; according to a U.S. News & World Report survey, 93% of adults age 55 and older agree that aging in place is an important goal for them.

New tech for aging in place makes it easier to monitor health at home – even if the health you are monitoring isn’t yours.

Aging in place can also be financially appealing, especially if the older adult is healthy.

Top tech for aging in place

Assistive health devices

Wearable health monitors like smartwatches – such as Apple, Garmin, FitBit devices – can often track heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. They can also assist with fall detection and use GPS to alert 911 if there is a fall. Grollemond sees these on many wrists on the golf course. There are also wearable alert systems like Life Alert and more upscale versions that look like jewelry.

Senior organizing a pill box. by Jorge Salcedo. For article on health tech for aging in place

For those who need help with daily medication, a smart medication reminder can help to notify adults when to take their meds and the correct dosage. Low-tech versions can be as basic as a smartphone app or pillboxes with alarms, to higher tech smart devices that provide caregiver alerts and 24/7 support, for a monthly fee.

But don’t overlook vintage tech: there’s a reason hearing aids, vision aids, and mobility aids (such as canes or walkers) can also support older adults in their daily activities and help them age in place with confidence.

Telehealth services

Telehealth services provide access to healthcare providers virtually, allowing older adults to receive medical consultations and monitoring without leaving their homes. A 2021 National Center for Health Statistics survey found 43% of Americans older than 65 have used telemedicine in the last year.

Telehealth is ideal for people with mobility limitations who struggle to get out of the house. Adults without easy access to public or private transportation greatly benefit. Telehealth works for adults with chronic conditions who need medical advice but don’t need to be seen in a hospital or clinic.

Telemedicine isn’t just a video call with a doctor. Most physician offices now offer patient portals. These are secure websites or apps where patients can easily schedule appointments, to check lab results, or ask questions to a medical provider.

Home monitoring systems

More than one in four adults (28%) 65 and older report falling each year. Advanced motion sensors can monitor room activity for potential falls and automatically contact emergency help. Some wearables can also detect falls.

Grollemond recommends his neighbors get video cameras, which can be installed both inside and outside the home and can be accessed remotely. The stationery cameras will cost $100 or less, swiveling cameras can cost as much as $300. Many can be accessed through secure websites, meaning children can check in on their aging parents.

Other options include home sensors which can learn a person’s usual daily pattern, and monitor activity, then alert a caregiver if there are changes in patterns that could indicate a problem. Caregivers can tap into data via an app or web portal. These sensor suites use artificial intelligence to detect changes in usual patterns.

A system like Alexa Together lets a caregiver keep tabs on a loved one’s routine and health status through a connected smartphone app. Grandcare tracks daily activity, provided medical monitoring (glucose, oxygen, blood pressure, weight), and can display anything: diets, discharge plans, and exercises. The system also has an interactive feature that shows videos, photos, games, news and allows for video chats.

Communication and socialization

granddad on video call with granddaughter. By Fizkes. Used in article on health tech for aging in place

There’s no question technology can also keep older adults socially connected, reducing isolation. Grollemond’s wife uses the Marco Polo app to send quick videos back and forth to her grandchildren.

No need for lots of fancy gadgets. Grollemond recommends the video calling stand-bys: Zoom, Facetime and Skype can provide older adults with ways to communicate, share photos, and participate in virtual social activities. These work with most existing tech already; a laptop or smartphone is all you need.

Don’t overlook the low-tech feature of smartphones: making phone calls. A study from the University of Texas found phone calls create stronger bonds than text-based communications. This can promote social engagement, and mental well-being and combat loneliness, which are important aspects of healthy aging.

Getting comfortable with tech

Grollemond says there are three factors to get people to change: cost, convenience, and ease of use. The motivation comes when the new technology hits at least two of those.

The first step may be wearing fitness trackers and video chatting with grandchildren. Then the leap to a telehealth visit and other tech solutions seems more palatable.

But, above all, remember to approach the idea of introducing more technology delicately. The most ideal way is the most low-tech way possible: in person.

Beth Kuberka

Beth Kuberka is the chief development, marketing and communication officer of Tellico Village, a planned active adult community in Tennessee. She oversees all communications, marketing, sales and first impression initiatives for the village. She has nearly 20 years of experience in planned senior community marketing. She spent 8 years at Rarity Bay, working her way up to marketing director before joining Tellico Village in 2012. Kuberka has extensive knowledge of the workings of senior living communities. She has developed several programs, and currently manages an alliance of 88 village-based businesses. She earned a Bachelor in Informational Science from the University of Tennessee in 2004 with a focus on advertising and business marketing.