Written by Trisha Felgar
Humans are social animals. Our social bonds with family, friends, colleagues and community allow us to thrive and prosper. However, as we age, many of us find ourselves alone and isolated, making us vulnerable to negative health outcomes.
Isolation typically happens over time due to the death of a spouse, separation from family, retirement, poor transportation or a lack of mobility. We find ourselves alone, with significant barriers preventing us from interfacing with others.
As a result, isolation often inhibits seniors from receiving the support they need to live healthier lifestyles and from identifying and treating health issues before they become significant. Perhaps that’s why we see higher rates of mortality, depression, high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, heart disease, obesity, arthritis and cognitive decline in people suffering from isolation.
Fortunately, many new technologies have emerged that can help seniors stay connected and get the support they need despite the very real social, physical and geographic barriers impeding their interaction with others.
Whether it’s a phone call or a voice chat on Skype, Facetime, Google Duo or Snapchat, new communication technologies make it easier and cheaper to stay in touch with family and friends no matter how far apart. Visual calls are especially helpful because they can help family members see any changes in their loved one’s physical appearance, moods or mannerisms that may warrant further investigation.
2. Digital Voice Assistants
Digital voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s Siri, are revolutionizing communication for seniors with vision impairment, cognitive decline and arthritis. By voice command alone, without the need to press a small button or remember a phone number, users can simply instruct Alexa to “call my daughter”, “call Doctor Smith” or “call a taxi”.
Digital voice assistants can also be used to schedule appointments, reminders, summon an Uber driver or make a grocery, pharmacy or Amazon shopping order for delivery – perfect for those with mobility or transportation issues.
3. Medical Alert Systems
A monitored medical alert system with fall detection and GPS can provide a significant level of comfort and confidence for seniors living alone, allowing them to remain independent and active while still feeling protected 24X7, no matter where they are. Some medical alert companies also offer caregiving features like daily check-ins, activity monitoring and live GPS tracking, establishing further connections outside the home.
For seniors isolated due to mobility or transportation issues, telehealth is quickly emerging as an efficient alternative to in-person medical consultations. Using simple video chat and/or remote monitoring technologies, doctors can talk to patients more frequently, review test results, fill or re-fill prescriptions, monitor vitals like heart rate, blood, pressure, blood oxygen levels and blood sugar levels all while avoiding the difficulty and expense of unnecessary medical appointments.
5. Medication Management
For seniors with complicated medication regimens, taking the right medications, at the right time, in the right dose can be a monumental challenge. Whether through pill organizers, medication reminders, or monitored medication dispensers helping isolated seniors manage their medications can be a significant health benefit. Some medication dispensers can even let caregivers know when a dose was missed and when a medication prescription needs to be refilled.
6. Digital Games
Seniors can get in on the online gaming revolution as well. Whether playing chess, checkers, backgammon, Scrabble, Mahjong, Canasta or cards online, distance is no longer a barrier to sharing a great game with friends and family. With live chat and video, the experience can be truly social.
Artificial Intelligence Robots like Elliq take digital voice assistants to the next level. They keep seniors company by learning their likes and dislikes, habits and emotional needs. With that knowledge their scheduling video chats with family and friends, curating their favorite music, playing stimulating games, sharing photos, scheduling reminders and events and so much more.
While some seniors may be separated from family, have mobility issues or lack transportation, no longer do they have to remain isolated from the outside world. There are more opportunities than ever to live a life of purpose and meaning, to maintain deep connections with friends and family, than ever before.
Technology now allows us to blow out birthday candles and read nightly bed time stories to our grandchildren over video chat, facetime our doctor, schedule delivery for our weekly grocery order, play Scrabble with our friends from coast to coast, and offer protection in the event we fall and no one’s around. Technology now allows us to live alone, without being left alone.