Taking care of elderly parents can raise any number of personal emotions for children who find they aren't getting any younger themselves. More than once, I found myself - single, with no children of my own - wondering to whom I would turn at age 86, when living on my own might be proving to be just a bit more than I could handle. Fortunately, assistive technology is advancing at a rapid clip, and it could play a big role in helping more of us stay in our own homes in the next few decades. Following is a sampling of some of the ways equipment makers are building on some current offerings in ways that could help us Boomers age more gracefully in place.
- Personal emergency response systems. The old "I've fallen and I can't get up" medical-alert products already have gone cellular. Today's latest GPS-based systems, like the 5Star from Jitterbug maker GreatCall work outside the home, and can help find a wandering loved one. Built-in gyroscopes in some current products also can help detect falls, even when someone is unconscious.
- Home telehealth equipment. We had a unit that included a scale, blood-pressure/heart-rate monitor and blood-oxygen meter. Dad's daily readings went to a central monitoring agency and any outlying results got a quick call from a nurse. GE and Intel recently teamed up on the Care Innovations Guide, which works on any Windows 7 device with a webcam and even enables 2-way video calls with your participating doctor or nurse. It also offers remote glucose monitoring for diabetes patients.
- Caregiving coordination. The phone was incredibly helpful to me as a caregiver: It was how I reached out to vent to distant family and friends. But with products like the new - and free - CarePartners Mobile app from Philips (developer of LifeLine home monitoring systems), caregivers can use their smartphones to improve their lives, not just complain about them. Users create a community of family and friends, and a list of tasks (doctor appointments, shopping, or just social engagement) for which those members can volunteer. Tasks can be added directly to your phone's electronic calendar and email or text messages can help remind volunteers of their commitments.
- The "Internet of Things." So, you may have heard of (and laughed about) refrigerators that monitor their own contents to create automated shopping lists. "Who could need such a thing?" you might've asked. Well, think how valuable knowing the milk in mom's frig is a week past its freshness date could be. Just in the last couple years, manufacturers from lock-maker Kwikset to lighting leader Philips have introduced wireless home products that can be programed and controlled via smartphone and monitored remotely. Have a senior moment and forget your house key? Well, now there's an app for that.