Aging in place is increasingly important as ¼ of seniors may become ‘elder orphans’
By Val Ornoy and Hjalmer Danielson, LifeAssist Technologies
The American landscape of aging adults is receiving significant coverage and statistical scrutiny regarding size, needs, challenges and opportunities. Americans have historically touted our rugged, prosperous, individualistic, can-do characteristics. As we evolve the national ethos, we need to increase our compassion, social engagement and care orientation for our elderly.
Understanding the trends and fostering connections will support elderly in their homes and community, delaying reliance on expensive clinical and institutional care.
AARP’s recent briefing to state legislators reported nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes, and are willing to engage day-to-day healthcare services in order to age in place. The impact of this statement has significant on approaches to healthy and active aging.
U.S. Census data estimates a rise in adults 65 or older who are aging without the benefits of an adequate family, health and community support system. An estimated 25 percent will potentially become “elder orphans.” These seniors are vulnerable to leading an isolated life, especially if they are:
- Suffering from mobility or sensory impairments
- Low income
- Severely frail
- Remote or rural residents
- Without adequate social support or non-English speakers
We have seen this first-hand as active volunteers for Meals on Wheels, regardless of affluence or location. An older adult with lack of engagement or access to family/community can experience diminishing health across physical, cognitive and mental functions. Regardless of our rugged individualism, there is a strong need for family and social engagement providing healthy aging and less reliance on clinical and institutional care.
The aging industry needs support
Fundamental changes are required to sustain and improve the lives of our growing senior population. Isolation is not just an issue of proximity to a family member or social network. Often the network supporting our aging population is juggling work, school and family responsibilities. It is important to consider the role that private and public sectors can provide by supporting ‘senior-centeredness’ via flexible hours, family leave, remote work spaces, etc.
In California, attractive and commercially viable intergenerational living spaces are being built that allow for independent living, but with connectivity to family. This trend of co-living may gain more home-builder attention and lead to in-home-aging innovation. This could offer younger family members and older generations options for housing designed to offer support as required. These new options create modern, flexible spaces that are adapted to adult children and families living with and caring for parents.
New approaches are emerging to better address coordination of care and connecting our health systems, community-based services and the network of support. Age-friendly solutions are being developed and launched to provide enhanced models of care for older adults.
John A. Hartford Foundation recently announced funding that would retrofit and streamline the continuum of care for elderly. The goal is to spread age-friendly health systems across the U.S. by 2020. Outcomes of such programs are to coordinate care across supporting organizations and promote physical independence, address common geriatric symptoms and prevent polypharmacy.
Technology is continuing to provide the best platform for engagement across the various players involved in the lives of the elderly. Key to seniors’ core needs is the ability for technology to assist them in routines, communication, health and the daily control of their lives.
Support of the elderly and their independence is often focused on the health component, as it is vital to allow for them to age in place. Technology can also reduce the feeling of isolation. Thus the technologies with the best returns are focusing on:
- Integrating schedules and calendars to manage and track treatments, appointments and social events
- Connecting and distributing the data from wearables, monitors and other devices for vital signs and behavior
- Communication across video, texts and photos for social and medical support
Awareness across society combined with innovative approaches to solutions and technology will provide sustainable ‘aging in place’ scenarios. The elderly deserve rich experiences and continued connection to family, healthcare and community support in order to achieve active, aging independence.
Val Ornoy is CEO and Hjalmer Danielson is head of marketing for LifeAssist Technologies, a company that seeks to enable ongoing connections for secure, transitional care that bridges silos between people and data.