Technology for Seniors
by Michael Bihari, MD
Me: Alexa, Good Morning
Alexa: Good Morning, did you know that today is National Ninja Day?
Me: Alexa, please play a Mozart Concerto
As Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto started to play I took a sip of my coffee and started writing this article.
Most of us older folks did not grow up with computers, smart phones, tablets and the internet, but we are learning to use this technology to stay connected with friends and family; stream movies and books; shop and order groceries ; listen to music; play games; get the news and medical information; pay bills and manage finances; and, connect with medical offices through online portals.
Assistive Technology Devices
Alexa, the voice of Amazon Echo — and the similar Google Home — is an example of an Assistive Technology Device (ATD) that can help seniors be safer and more comfortable in their homes. Alexa provides access to a wide range of information and services. A core feature of the device is the ability to provide music and information on demand, everything from a piano concerto to the latest Taylor Swift recording and an encyclopedia of general information. Alexa can tell jokes, recite poetry and even play word or trivia games. If you want to know something just ask Alexa!
Alexa can make phone calls and leave messages; or can manage your home’s lighting, replace your radio, and manage the remote control of your television. “She” can even sync with your home security system and warn you, your loved ones and local law enforcement about potential break-ins, even when you are not home.
Want to keep healthy? Alexa can guide you through a five minute workout or a morning routine of stretches. “She” can give you a daily health tip to help you focus on a daily activity, such as increasing your mobility; can help monitor your diet; or, if you tell her what you eat, she will maintain a log for you and provide you with nutritional information. Want to sleep better? Alexa can set a sleep timer and provide up to 125 background sounds to help you drift off.
Many older Seniors benefit from Alexa reminding them of today’s date, any appointments for the day, and reminders to check in or perform certain activities. This can be a great help to both Seniors and to their concerned adult children. An important feature for seniors is access to medical information. You can ask Alexa about specific health problems, the medications you’re taking, or the address and phone number of the closest urgent care center. Alexa does not (and should not) make a diagnosis, but the device provides information from reliable sources such as the Mayo Clinic and WebMD.
Most seniors, especially Boomers, are familiar with and use internet-based apps and programs on their smart phones and tablets. Text messaging with friends and Skype-ing with grandchildren are popular activities for many, along with reconnecting with old friends on social media platforms.
On-Your Body or IoMT Devices
The most common and simplest of IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) tools are wearable devices and apps that let you monitor your personal wellness or fitness, such as activity trackers, sports watches, wristbands, and smart garments. For example, I use a smart watch that lets me know how many steps I take, how many times I go up and down the staircase, how many miles I walk and, most usefully, reminds me to stand up and walk around if I have been sitting too long!
More complex on-body devices can help you monitor your health status and are used in collaboration with your doctor or health center. Wearable devices can record your blood pressure, pulse rate, blood glucose, blood oxygen level and body temperature; and, monitor your mobility and sleep patterns. This information can be shared with your MD’s office through the internet and be used by your doctor to make changes in your medication or other types of therapy.
The most familiar type of wearable technology for seniors are medical alert systems that feature necklaces or bracelets connected through the internet to the local EMT’s or your healthcare provider. If you fall you will get help.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association “More than 60 percent of those with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will wander.” Half the people not found within 24 hours will suffer serious injury or death. The need to locate seniors is huge and having a wearable GPS tracking device can help. GPS trackers can be ironed into clothing, placed in the soles of shoes, or put in handbags.
In-Your-Home IoMT Devices
Every morning I stand on my smart scale and it measures my weight, my body fat, and calculates my BMI. This information is sent to an app on my phone that allows me to monitor my weight and BMI. Having type 2 Diabetes I check my blood sugar with a glucose meter that sends the information to my phone and lets me know how I am managing my diabetes. These two simple devices have helped me stay healthy by providing me with real-time information about my diabetes.
In the coming decade many visits with a healthcare provider will be virtual consultations. For example, if you have a rash, your doctor can look at it over the internet, take a history, inquire about your symptoms, make a diagnosis and send a prescription to your pharmacy. Think of it as Skype-ing with your doctor!
Writing this article made me think about how I use technology and how it has impacted my life. The following is a typical day in the cloud:
logged my health care data to manage my diabetes
scanned a digital version of the New York Times and Washington Post for the latest news and did some online shopping
texted with my son in the Boston suburbs to set up a lunch date
went online to update the Neighborhood Falmouth website, including doing research for some new content; asked Alexa to play some Frank Sinatra
watched a YouTube video about aging in place, which is relevant to my volunteer service at Neighborhood Falmouth
connected to the Falmouth Public Library to listen to an audio book for an upcoming book club
plowed through 40+ emails and checked Facebook and Instagram
after dinner watched a movie on my iPad using the Netflix app
before lights out I used the Apple News app to see if I missed anything exciting during the day and then, using apps, played a word game and a puzzle game
I may spend more time online than the typical man in his late 70s but most of my peers are using technology on a daily basis, most often to stay in touch or to stay informed.
Me: Alexa, what will happen with technology in the future?
Alexa: I can’t answer that question but I do like artificial intelligence
Me: Alexa, one last question. Who will you vote for in 2020?
Alexa: Sorry there are no voting booths up here in the cloud
Me: Alexa, Good night
Alexa: Good night, sleep well
Mike Bihari is President of the Neighborhood Falmouth Board of Directors and Chair of the organization’s Technology Committee.