According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, individuals over the age of 65 will make up nearly a quarter of the population by the year 2040. Throughout our lives the number of older adults will continue to rise, reaching 98 million people over the age of 65 by the year 2060. Age-related changes in vision, presbyopia, and hearing, presbycusis, affect our ability to fulfill life roles, and these changes are universal, regardless of diet and lifestyle effort. Many older people will manage multiple chronic diseases, as more than 90% of people over 65 report at least one chronic condition.
It is clear that now is the right time if you are considering obtaining a Master of Arts in Gerontology or Aging Services Management. It is also evident that organizations that focus on developing new technologies to meet the needs of an aging population will see increasing demand for their products. Here are just a few of the many new technologies that are affecting long term services and supports now and/or are expected to do so in the future:
Japan has many robots that can serve as companions or home assistants for older adults. Paro the robot seal has been shown to calm people with Alzheimer’s disease. Honda’s Asimo autonomous robot can perform mundane tasks such as getting an older person some food or turning lights on and off. Panasonic’s Resyone carebot has gained recognition for being the first robot to meet ISO service robots standards; however, it doesn’t look much like a robot. It is, in fact, a device that can change shape, turning into a bed, chair and electric wheelchair as needed. Japan’s research institute RIKEN is currently developing a robot called Robobear that can carry a person safely should the need arise. There are even robotic cats for people who can care for themselves but are in need of companionship and friendship.
In the United States, USC’s Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory is testing socially assistive robots on older adults for assisted exercise and companionship. At the same time, IBM is working with Rice University in the United States to develop a robot that can be a safe replacement for a human caregiver. MERA, which stands for Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant, will have sensors that can detect changes in older adults’ facial expressions, behavior and environment. It will be able to sense if someone has left the stove on, has fallen and needs assistance or is feeling unwell and in need of medical help. This robot is still in the developmental stages as IBM wants to ensure that each caregiver robot has all the information it needs to properly assist an older adult; however, it is safe to say that these robots could very well be commonplace in the next few decades.
New Uses for Information Technology
Modern technology has dominated many fields; however, caring for older adults is generally a low-tech industry. That may be about to change as companies such as Honor Technology and HomeHero Inc. use information technology to match caregivers with those in need of care. Both companies have created complex algorithms that are regularly updated to make sure that any full- or part-time caregiver is a good match for the person in need of care. Factors taken into account include a caregiver’s schedule, languages spoken, skills and personality. Honor has an Uber-like program for family members and children of older parents who need to call in a short-term caregiver on short notice.
Another way that modern technology could impact elderly care is in the development of smart homes and devices. Instead of having a robot handle daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning and shopping, an older adult could count on various devices in the home to take care of jobs that he or she can no longer do alone. For example, a smart refrigerator could sense when there is not enough food and order items from a local grocery store or supermarket. An app connected to a door lock system could make it easy for an elderly person to let in a family member or trusted caregiver without having to get up and open the door.
There are already camera systems that can be installed in a home to allow family members to check in on an older person remotely; such systems can easily be used with a smartphone to enable a grown child to take a peek at what mom or dad is doing at any given time and ensure that elderly parents are safe and being properly cared for. Video calling systems are just one step up from existing home alarm camera systems and can be easily used by family members who want to communicate with older relatives, doctors who need to give older adults advice on medication and health issues, and caregivers who want to provide a remote diagnoses to doctors who can then offer appropriate treatment in a timely manner.
Will Technology Reduce Human Involvement?
Technology isn’t quite far along enough yet to make human involvement in care less necessary – and it may never be. Gerontology, the comprehensive study of aging and the problems of the aged, offers tomorrow’s leaders the necessary skills to either offer proper care to older adults or assist companies to engage in evidence-based programs that use modern technology to improve the safety, health and quality of life for the aged.
There are a number of career options open to a person who has obtained a gerontology degree online., depending on the individual’s prior experience and other professional credentials. Gerontologists can work in nonprofit management, entrepreneurial services designed for people in midlife and older, as long term care ombudsmen, health care quality assurance experts, policy directors, become an administrator, care coordinator, or leader in a hospice CEO, affordable housing service, or other business or service to name just a few of the many options.
Long Term Services and Supports is a field with the potential for great impact on the lives of older adults and their families. As a growing number of companies use modern technology to make life better for older adults, the human touch will always be needed and those who have the right skills and educational degree have a big role to play in helping older adults lead fulfilling lives.