Should aging seniors spend more time online? For those of us feeling the exhaustion of two years of working from home, distance learning, and the associated increase in screen time, the answer may be surprising.
According to a study published in the June 2020 issue of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, computer and Internet use may reduce loneliness, depression, and isolation in aging adults, as well as a greater sense of control over their lives. Additionally, research has reported an increase in neural activity and that certain computer activities — even video games — can improve memory, multitasking skills, and other abilities.
As someone who works with older people, including those living with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory loss issues, I’m not surprised. The big question is: how can innovation help ensure access to a better quality of life?
Contrary to popular belief, technology and innovation are not just the preserve of young people. In fact, in recent years, a growing number of pioneers have spearheaded a new wave of care known as senior tech. While the tools and techniques vary, one thing they have in common is a focus on empowering seniors to reclaim aging and unlock new ways to engage with loved ones. This is especially important for those experiencing other types of sensory decline and increasing memory issues.
Recognizing the potential of high technology, our own company launched the Koelsch Innovation Lab, an initiative that tests new tools and techniques to address the challenges of aging and synthesizes them into a systematic care philosophy.
A favorite of our residents is a lightweight headset combined with noise canceling technology that is light years ahead of hearing aids and opens up a whole world for the 50% of people aged 75+ who live with it. crippling hearing loss, a condition that exacerbates balance problems, feelings of depression and even advancing dementia.
There is also a TV channel developed for people with dementia that allows viewers to watch slow-paced content that promotes positive memories and thoughts, a tool that makes it easier to stand up without fear of falling, and easily customizable motion sensors that add a layer of security for senior residents and peace of mind for their families. The lab has even taken on the challenge of declining dental health and taste by developing “purees with a purpose,” harnessing culinary science to achieve the seemingly impossible: to make purees appealing and flavorful.
To put it simply, there is indeed an appetite for innovation of all kinds to support aging populations, and for good reason. The number of older Americans has increased by 36% since 2009, compared to just 3% for those under 65, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. And the National Bureau of Economic Research predicted in 2019 that the combined burdens of caring for this cohort of Americans could reduce economic output by 17% by 2056.
Across the country, the efforts are paving the way for caregivers, independent seniors and others who recognize that transcending the inevitable physical, emotional and mental challenges of aging may well be the most important challenge of our lives.
Eastside companies, especially those in our region’s pioneering technology, life sciences and medical device sectors, have a role to play. There is a need and there is a market.
More importantly, however, is the knowledge that focusing on quality of life, instead of just curing ailments, could be the keystone to improving health care outcomes, saving billions of dollars. and, most importantly, unlocking a happier, healthier old age for our loved ones and ourselves.
Benjamin Surmi is Director of Education and Culture at Koelsch Communities, a third-generation family business that operates memory care, assisted living, and self-reliance communities in Western Washington. , notably in Edmonds, Kirkland, Bellevue and Puyallup.