technologyWhen today’s seniors were growing up, all they really knew about technology was what they saw at the World’s Fair and that box in their neighbor’s living room that they watched endlessly with their friends. Then years later, that television introduced them to The Jetsons and they saw the future, but they never imagined they’d live to see the day when technology like smartphones, robotic vacuum cleaners and video calling would be real life.

Technology is no longer a fantastical, futuristic concept that we experience from a safe distance. Instead, it’s part of our everyday lives, and every industry is leveraging these innovations to resolve problems for their customers, entertain and engage them, and make their lives a whole lot easier.

The senior industry is no exception. Below we’ve found some of the most cutting-edge technologies being used by home care agencies and retirement communities, as well as seniors themselves, in the Triangle area. While seniors can’t push a couple of buttons and get a custom meal made for them or fold their car into a briefcase yet, we think you’ll be amazed at what some of this technology can actually do for them.

Live Independently

Maybe Mom or Dad has had a fall or forgotten to take their meds now and again, but they’re simply not ready to pack up and move to an assisted living community. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone looking out for them, without actually having to be in their home 24/7? 

Two completely automated systems, available to seniors in the Triangle area, use sensors placed strategically around the home (no spying with cameras) to track seniors’ activity and detect anything out of the ordinary, like when they get up more times than normal at night or don’t open the refrigerator or medicine cabinet all day. This activity, or lack thereof, then alerts caregivers or family members to check on them. Activation of emergency buttons, which are either part of the system or used in tandem with the system, send an instant alert that help is needed.

Complementing home care or functioning as a stand-alone solution, these systems allow seniors to live independently, while giving their loved ones the peace of mind that they’re eating and moving around regularly, getting a good night’s sleep, and are safe and secure in their homes.

Right at Home, a home care provider covering the Triangle through franchises in Wake County and Durham/Chapel Hill, is currently the exclusive provider of an automated well-being monitoring service, offered through Philips, which provides another option for families when caregivers are not in seniors’ homes (the system can be used either independently or with home care service).

“The whole purpose [of the system] is to recognize problems before they become so severe that they might require a 911 call or hospitalization,” explains Tom Arnold, CEO of the Wake County franchise, also covering Franklin and Johnson Counties.

While Right at Home uses the system to regularly monitor activity trends throughout a senior’s home, there is an alert tied to two specific danger zones for seniors: the bathroom, where 70 percent of falls occur, and nighttime use of outside doors. If the system recognizes that a senior has been in the bathroom for longer than normal, which may mean they’ve fallen, or has gone outside after a certain hour at night and not come back in, an alert goes out to the Philips call center. Philips, in turn, contacts the predetermined emergency call list.

However, activity levels don’t always give the whole picture. Another important feature of the Right at Home system is an optional video check-in, which allows the home care agency’s client care coordinator and a registered nurse to actually “see” how a senior is doing. Conducted daily or twice a day, using FaceTime on a provided iPad, this check-in shows whether seniors are alert, bathed, dressed, etc.

Ken Helmuth, CEO of the Durham/Chapel Hill franchise, which covers Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties, says that Right at Home has made this check-in easy even for seniors who are intimidated by technology: “All they have to do is swipe the iPad for the video check-in!”

The Freedom Program from Smart Homes & Business

Offered by Smart Homes & Business in Raleigh and Greenville, the Freedom Program also utilizes sensors to monitor seniors’ activity throughout the day; however, this system can be customized with a variety of other controls as well.

“We have the ability to add extra controls, like opening blinds, turning on and off lights, opening doors—things that can be a challenge for seniors,” says Erin Huddleston, vice president of Smart Homes & Business.

Used directly by family members or by home care companies as an add-on service, the program includes an easy-to-use portal to provide a full picture of a senior’s activity throughout the day.

Notes Smart Homes & Business education consultant and client relations coordinator, Heather Lord: “Psychologically, it [the benefit] is huge. Sometimes clients won’t shower for long periods of time because they’re afraid that, should they fall, no one would know.”

Family members can also customize the types of notifications they would like to receive. For example, they may want to be notified of every movement their loved one makes throughout the day and night. Or they may simply want to know about specific activity like movement from the bed (signaling Mom or Dad is going to bed or getting up), the opening of a refrigerator door (assuring them that their parent is eating), or the front door opening (to keep track of when they go outside and come back in again).

Provide Accountability 

MatrixCare’s Telephony from Accessible Home Care of Mid Carolina

Family members hire home care companies to ensure that their loved ones are cared for and safe. However, if a home care worker doesn’t show up at their scheduled time or at all, often no one is aware of it because most home care agencies don’t have an effective means to directly track their employees’ comings and goings.

“If you have a parent who lives on their own and doesn’t have the capacity to call in—and you live somewhere else—you have no idea the caregiver isn’t there,” explains Anthony Callaway, owner and executive director of Accessible Home Care of Mid Carolina, which provides both medical and non medical services to patients in the Triangle area. “The agency could go for days and not know an employee didn’t show up.”

That’s why Accessible Home Care has put technology in place to monitor its caregivers’ schedules. Telephony from MatrixCare, which operates using the client’s phone and requires no additional installation, works like this: When the caregiver arrives at the client’s home, they call into an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system and speak or key in their personal identifier number to “check in.” They do the same when they leave.

If the caregiver does not check in within five minutes of the time they are scheduled to be at a client’s home, or checks in from a phone other than the client’s, Accessible Home Care’s scheduler receives a notification and calls the caregiver. If there’s no response from the caregiver, the scheduler then calls the client to see if the caregiver is there and simply hasn’t called in. Using this same system, the scheduler can dispatch a replacement caregiver to the client’s home right away. The technology can also be used to document every service provided to the patient for billing purposes and permanent records.

Communicate More Easily

Captioned Telephone from CapTel North Carolina

captelMany seniors struggle with telephone conversations because they can’t hear the person on the other end of the phone well enough. They may even avoid the phone altogether because it’s just too frustrating.

However, with a CapTel phone, even seniors with significant hearing loss can participate in phone conversations again. These special phones allow them to actually read what the person is saying on their phone’s display. For those speaking in Spanish, this phone provides Spanish-to-Spanish captions.

“These phones have become a lifeline for those who have been isolated,” says Kim Calabretta, CapTel NC account manager. “They now have the independence to make a call anywhere, anytime.”

Captioned phones are available in both digital (Internet) and analog (basic landline) versions, with all phones featuring a volume control to amplify sound and built-in answering machine. For those seniors who also have vision problems, the font on the display can be enlarged for easier reading. If a senior qualifies for the state’s Equipment Distribution Program (EDS), this special captioned phone is available free of charge. 

Stimulate Minds and Friendships

Senior Portal – Resident and Community Engagement System

senior portalPatrick Smith, founder of Riithink, a digital marketing agency in Chapel Hill, has developed Senior Portal to foster a technologically friendly atmosphere between residents and retirement communities’ staff members. Because seniors who use technology tend to be more vibrant, not only mentally, but also physically and socially, Smith knew that a digital tool would be of great value to residents and the communities as a whole.

Whether they’re at their kids’ houses, on vacation or at the retirement community, residents can access the online portal from any Internet connection and any electronic device, using it to sign up for events, schedule maintenance service or transportation, get dinner reservations, private message other residents in the facility and much more! The portal also gives caregivers and family members a window into seniors’ activities.

“Most technology companies in the senior industry are thinking about the administration, not the residents. That’s where they are failing. Senior Portal is built for the residents first and our very user-friendly admin dashboard makes everyone’s lives easier!” explains Smith, who also serves as president of Senior Portal.

A new messaging feature also allows the portal to be used as a socialization tool. From a resident directory, which includes their contact information as well as hobbies and interests, seniors can connect with someone in the community who enjoys similar passions.

According to Smith, “Whenever we talk to IT directors at the communities, they tell us that residents always have a lot of tech questions: how to charge their phone, take pictures, use an app, etc.” As a result, Senior Portal decided to add Senior Portal University, which includes online modules to teach seniors tech skills from the comfort of their home computer. Once a resident completes a course, they receive a Senior Portal certification. Different levels are available: expert, intermediate or beginner. And as seniors learn something new, they’re also keeping their brains active.

The Best Is Yet to Come

When seniors were kids, they never imagined having trouble remembering their medications or hearing someone on the other end of the phone, much less computerized gizmos that could help them overcome these hurdles. But advances in technology (some of which they’re using themselves and others that are more behind the scenes) have given seniors both the support and the freedom to lead more active—and often more fulfilling—lives than their parents and grandparents. From keeping them safe to helping them remain engaged as well as learn new things, these “futuristic” devices and systems have made the future look a whole lot different for seniors today.

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