New technology could help senior citizens maintain independence longer

Almost 40 million Americans are over the age of 65. One of the most difficult things for older adults is being forced out of their own home and into a nursing home.

Now, new technology may help them maintain their independence longer.

Nothing slows down avid motorcyclists Josie and Bernie Shankman, ages 77 and 86 respectively.

"We usually ride every Saturday to a different place," says Bernie

"I've never been afraid a day riding with him. I got on it the first day, and I've never been afraid,” says Josie.

Although she's not scared on the road, she worries a fall at home will put the breaks on life.

"I think that's always on your mind, if you were to fall and one or the other wasn't to be here,” says Josie.

As we grow older, we also lose balance. One in three people over age 65 fall each year. 40 percent of nursing home admissions are because of a fall.

"Half of those will not return to their own homes and be able to live healthfully,” says Debra Krotish, PhD, assistant director for Senior Smart, a newtechnology designed to keep a watchful eye on the elderly.

A vibration detector can be placed on the surface of a floor to detect if a person has fallen and notify caregivers. Motion detectors track a person's movement.

"For example, if you put them by the bedside or the bathroom door, you know that mom's gotten up in the middle of the night,” says Krotish.

Piezo-electric material can be put underneath a mattress to read a person's heart rate and respiration. There are also devices to monitor a person's health. A blood pressure cuff and scale sends data by Bluetooth to an online system family members and caregivers can access.

91-year-old Helen Coplan still lives alone. She thinks the technology would be very useful.

"If anything can help a person stay in their own familiar surroundings, it's well worth it,” she says.

The cost of the technology can vary on what the patient needs, but can run from a few hundred to up to $8,000.

The average cost of a nursing home is about $50,000 a year.

Thanks to advanced medical care and increasing life expectancies, many more Americans are growing older. There are about 37 million people living in the United States who are over age 65, but as the population ages, there is also a growing concern for the health and safety of those individuals. According to the United States Census Bureau, 7.5 million senior women and 2.6 million senior men live alone. While living alone can offer individuals a sense of independence, there are many challenges these seniors face. For example, one major concern is their security and safety. Those who have never been married or who are divorced or widowed are more than twice as likely to be robbed compared to those who are married.
ISSUES SENIORS FACE: Another concern is falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death among the elderly. One in three adults aged 65 and older fall every year. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of falls result in moderate to severe injuries. Falls are also very costly. Today, injuries from falls cost more than $19 billion. A decade from now, the annual cost is expected to reach $54.9 billion.Another concern for seniors living on their own is medication errors. It can be difficult juggling a schedule of different drugs. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2008 revealed more deaths from medication errors occurred at home than in hospitals, from January 1983 through December 2004.
TECHNOLOGY: A WATCHFUL EYE: New home automation technologies are allowing seniors to remain in their own home longer while improving their safety. Such technologies can range from computer controlled network interfaces to monitoring devices like lighting, motion sensors, environmental controls, video cameras, automated timers, emergency assistance programs and alerts. "Smart" homes can also include devices to monitor medication usage -- dispensing the right dose at the right time. Thermometers can detect fever, and blood pressure devices can recognize when blood pressure medications are needed.
For More Information, Contact:
Charise D. Bell, Director of Marketing and Communications
USC School of Medicine
Columbia, SC

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