Technology is becoming a fountain of youth for the aging consumer
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Technology provides a platform for consumers to extend their communities. It is working to connect all of us to each other to help build relationships and new opportunities that reach beyond any preexisting barriers. It’s been a game-changer for many consumers, providing a wide range of smart devices and communications tools. With our smartphones, we literally have computers that fit into our pockets to keep us connected to work, home, and loved ones. However, for the aging community and those with accessibility issues, technology is much more than simply a device for communication or entertainment to enhance daily life. Technology provides an opportunity for aging in place and independence that is often hard to achieve for our aging population. 

With the continued advancement of broadband networks and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, the aging community will continue to reap the benefits of its proliferation in extraordinary ways. Connected technology allows individuals to remotely manage appliances, lighting, a thermostat, and even lock and unlock a door. More importantly, smart appliances can provide greater safety with auto shut-off features for stoves, faucets, and toasters, just to name a few. Smart home technology is paving the way for greater independence and community integration for aging adults.

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In the health space, technology assists with simple tasks such as reminding an individual to take medication as prescribed, or more complex monitoring and communications directly with healthcare professionals. Technology for monitoring diabetes and blood pressure are already in use by consumers today and it is anticipated that advancements in connected technology will bring specialized telehealth services and better access to expert care to more remote areas of the country.

 

For older adults that have acquired disabilities – like low vision or hearing loss – technology provides a bridge to staying engaged in everyday life. This means continuing to staying active in the workplace and socializing with friends, family, and neighbors. This sustained level of engagement helps older adults stay in their communities (rather than relocate to elder care facilities) and avoid feelings of isolation that could lead to depression and other health issues. 

Voice-activation technology has particularly benefited the lives of the aging. It wasn’t that long ago that Siri joined our smartphones and voice activated technology and became the new normal for consumers. Voice-activated devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home enable an individual with accessibility issues or limited mobility to engage with technology and receive information and assistance. For example, a voice-activated device can read books to an individual with low vision. They can control the lights and thermostat for someone with mobility issues. They can even help an individual shop and have the items delivered right to their door. Voice-activated technology, while not originally designed for the aging community, has many real life applications that are making lives easier – and safer.

Of course, new technology can be daunting for older consumers. Instead of worrying about the unknown, we should focus on making sure seniors of all walks of life have the help they need to understand and use the communications products and services that best meet their unique needs.

As our cars, homes, appliances and mobile devices become more integrated and connected both to each other and other machines, the Internet of Things will require a user interface that is approachable and easily understood by all. Technology service providers and manufacturers can become better aligned with the aging market with an eye towards making end products more accessible to all consumers. Voice activation is a perfect example of a product feature that was not developed with the aging in mind, but it has enhanced product accessibility for all users.

We must do all we can to educate providers, manufacturers, and consumers themselves about the opportunities for aging in place – and aging on the move – that technology affords. For consumers, these devices, innovations, and capabilities hold the ability for more independence, better community integration, and increased safety. 

Debra Berlyn is the president of Consumer Policy Solutions and the executive director of Project GOAL, a project committed to help promote the adoption of broadband services by older adults, to raise the profile of the challenges confronting the use and adoption of technology within the older community, and to create a new voice representing these issues.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.