Over 90 percent of Americans want to grow old in their own homes reports an often-repeated AARP statistic, yet eight out of 10 will die in either a nursing home or hospital. You can age successfully at home but you are going to need help but help in the form of a live person might not be available. If you are lucky, you have family members that either live with you or live close by that can help in a pinch and if you can afford it, you can hire a caregiver to fill the role of missing or distant family but a few obstacles to that plan exist. The first is that the Baby Boomers chose to have smaller families (a few chose not to have any). According to a 2013 survey by AARP, there are about seven people aged 45-64 to care for each person 80 and older today. However, by 2030, when the Baby Boomers will be 65 or older there will be four people to provide that care and by 2050 when the last of the Baby Boomers will reach 85 years of age, there will only be three. Currently, unpaid family members and friends provide the bulk of care for the 80 percent or more of caregiving provided at home. That would seem to suggest that more of us would need to hire caregivers but caregiving continues to be a low paying, difficult job with poor benefits and the same problem with lack of numbers exist with paid staff as exists with unpaid staff.
One place to look for solutions for our aging problem is to look to the Japanese. Japan, which has the highest proportion of older adults in the world looks to rely far more on robots and other technology to make aging safe and affordable. Here is a list of home safety features, current technology and other innovative tools to help people who want to age at home do so safely.
The riskiest room in the home is the bathroom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 235,000 people over the age 15 visit emergency rooms because of injuries suffered in the bathroom.
Grab Bars. When we think of grab bars, we’re often reminded of the industrial looking bars found in public restrooms and institutions. While you can still find those boring and frankly ugly tools for sale at your neighborhood DIY store, the trend is toward more functional and stylish accessories, what GreatGrabz calls fine jewelry, for the bathroom. Grab bars should be installed in the shower area and by the toilet.
Showers. When I first moved into my house, I was excited about my low threshold shower but I’ve since realized that the sliding doors still would prevent me from rolling a wheel chair or walker into my shower. A good shower by contrast should have a low threshold or non-existent threshold with a slope to drain. Another option is a wet room so that no shower door is required. I’ve seen these in some senior communities. The benefit to a wet room is that there are no obstacles to have to work around especially if the person taking the shower needs assistance from someone else.
Shower seat. Built in shower seats often come as part of a standard shower kit but if the placement isn’t right the shower head can’t reach the seat. A handheld showerhead can eliminate that as a problem and make it possible for people to either sit or stand to use the same shower. It also makes sense that the controls for the shower be accessible from whatever position an individual may be in while showering.
Floor. Opt for non-slip tile flooring. Small tiles require more grout and more grout provides more traction.
Lighting. As we get older, we need more light. Lighting needs to be adequate to allow people to maneuver easily while in the bathroom.
Websites for bathroom design
Wearable wireless medical device sales are projected to reach more than 100 million devices annually by 2016.
Walking Tools. Twenty-five million Americans suffer from Peripheral Neuropathy, nerve damage usually to the hands and feet, that often causes weakness, numbness and pain. WalkJoy helps those who have lost feeling in their legs to maintain balance by sending an electric pulse to the brain when a foot strikes the ground.
Smart Clothing. The BioMan t-shirt measures the user’s heart rate, respiration rate and skin temperature. Additional customization can measure skin moisture, EKG, EEG and EMG. AiQ, which makes the t-shirt also makes a pullover with padding that stiffens on contact to protect the wearer.
Tracking applications. If you’ve been to an assisted living facility, you’ve likely seen an example of a product which allows residents to be anywhere in the facility and call for nurse assistance. They can also notify personnel when someone has entered an unsecured areas and can save personal activity profiles for each user. This allows the technology to send a notification if a resident’s activity suddenly differs from the norm. There’s a growing number of wearable devices that track and monitor vital signs and symptoms.
Innovative Tools-Wireless, web-based apps, motion sensors and robots will likely play a role in keeping seniors independent and helping families care for family members
Family Robot. Jibo is a personal robot that can remind you to take your medicine, snap a photo, perform simple tasks and communicate. Jibo sells for about the price of a good robot vacuum.
Family Pet. Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology created Paro, a robotic baby harp seal that responds to petting, and simple words to provide companionship to people with depression and dementia.
GeriJoy is a start-up that combines pet therapy, avatars and tablet computing to check on elderly clients through streaming audio and visual monitoring.
Obviously, there are a lot more products out there to help people age in their own homes. The struggle isn’t that those products don’t exist because frequently they do, it’s that people wait too long before going ahead with changes to their home or environment that will help them to safely remain in their own home. Once a fall or other serious injury or health crisis occurs, it may be too late by then to make the modifications and upgrades. Some home modifications are relatively simple and inexpensive making them good choices to do at any time. If you need a professional to look at your current housing situation to see what changes and modifications you may need to age in place, consider hiring an occupational therapist and having a walk-through of your home.