Loneliness comes with killer side effects for some aging-in-place seniors, but certain technologies geared toward social engagement may provide an antidote, senior care technology developers say.
Recent studies have shown the negative impact loneliness and social isolation can have on older adults who live alone in their homes. However, this can represent opportunity for senior living providers to use technology to expand their services outside of a traditional brick-and-mortar setting to the community at large.
Remaining in a familiar setting can actually end up resulting in more harm than good, as loneliness speeds up the aging process and increases the risk of heart disease, according to one study. And while about 90% of the 65+ population wish to age in place, according to AARP studies, another report found that those aged 60 and older who suffer from loneliness have been linked with a higher rate of functional decline and mortality.
The senior living industry is looking for ways to accommodate most older adults’ strong desire to maintain independence in a safe setting, and in many instances, it’s turning to technology.
“We think that these studies confirm the massive market need for enabling technologies that can help seniors stay connected and socially active,” says Shannon C. McIntyre, company spokesperson for Intel-GE Care Innovations. “This was an area that Intel started exploring in 1999, and some of our first prototypes were around the use of simple technologies such as GPS and messaging that could help isolated seniors connect with one another and build relationships.”
Other companies are also exploring tech-related solutions to combat issues related to social isolation.
“In a study of 1,600 seniors, doctors found that people who reported being lonely were more likely to suffer a decline in health or die over a six-year period than those who were content with their social lives,” says Kian Saneii, CEO of senior care technology solutions provider Independa, referencing a study whose results were recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Independa is specifically addressing this issue with its Angela social engagement solution, which enables the elderly to easily communicate and connect with loved ones, friends and caregivers,” Saneii says. “This is a critical element of care that is often overlooked by the medical community.”
But while technology can function as a solution, it’s not recommended as the only source of social engagement for people who live on their own.
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“We believe that technology should never be about replacing human contact—rather, it should be about creating more robust relationship between people, whether it’s between two older adults, between an older adult and a medical professional, or between caregivers and their loved ones,” says McIntyre. “Connect was developed in response to the need we saw in all our ethnographic research for ways to overcome the debilitating social isolation that can often happen in someone’s later years.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace