How Technology is Making Aging in Place Possible

Guest post by Janine E. Payne, MPH, a health care communication professional, mom, wife and singer. With more than 20 years of experience in health communication, Janine’s career spans almost every sector, including non-profit, government and agency work, to name a few. Follow Janine on Twitter @Janine_Payne or check out her Tumblr, Before and After 50

Aging is what we do. We think about it all the time: whether we’re anxiously awaiting 18 or 21 years-old, or to get our hands on an AARP card – we’re always counting up or down – I guess it depends how you look at it.

Look, I’m gravely afraid of becoming the relative whose home you visit and are welcomed at every turn by throw rugs. Trip. Walk. Straighten. I mean – we know they can present certain dangers in the house, and especially for older adults.  I recall my mom’s futile attempts to remove throw rugs from my grandmother’s home, only to find them replaced by her next visit. In reality, this tango between my mom and grandmother represented a demonstration of love by one person, and another’s efforts to clutch and maintain independence; also a show of caring for loved ones as they try to age in place.

To prepare for writing this article, my girlfriend’s indulged me by responding to request for feedback via Facebook and email about this very topic: aging in place, which is defined by as, “living where you have lived for years, not typically in a health care environment or nursing home, using products, services, and conveniences which allow you to remain home as your circumstances change”. In other words, you continue to live in the home of your choice safely and independently as you get older.

The six women who readily replied to my call represent your kid’s teacher, a university instructor, the woman who sorts and deliver your mail, the lady in your choir who sings like she doesn’t have a care in the world, your human resources manager, your co-worker or neighbor. Their ages range between 30-55 years-old.  I promise that you will find yourself in at least one of their observations about aging.

The adult/child in you speaks.

My Grandmother and Mother.

When asked about their greatest joy and fear about growing older, these adult children expressed tremendous zeal for having gained so much wisdom in life, and being secure with oneself, and able to enjoy the simplicity of life.  Each person spoke of the future with hope for “new and different” experiences, and one person said, “Being able to look back and “remember when –  I am still in awe about how time has flown by; seems like just yesterday it was 1977”.  I was moved by this comment, which struck me for being so doggone reflective, and yet spoke to life’s momentum, and guarantee of aging.

Fear of growing older is complex – as is its definition.

You might agree fear is one of the most complicated emotions. As one woman described her greatest fear about aging is “not being here for my son with special needs, or not being able to help care for him as my husband and I grow older – not knowing what may strike our family health wise, and how I will manage caring for my parents as they get older as I am an only child.” Another friend says she fears not being able to “adequately plan financially”, and adds “I don’t want to be a burden on my children; however, I fear I may not be able to live successfully on my own until my death if I have failing health or other issues. I have been researching long term care insurance and other options.” Our personal concerns can seem overwhelming, but luckily for our generation there are now a few resources on these topics from the U.S. Department of Labor  and that can help.

 “Having no one to care for me when I am old. I have no children…so I wonder who would care for me or visit me in the nursing home.”

Helping our loved ones age in place, well.

The biggest concerns the group of women respondents raised about their aging loved ones include the means for caring for them financially and emotionally from a distance. For instance, the recently widowed 75 year-old mom who is relatively healthy, but requires some coordination of care: doctors/specialists and the myriad of prescriptions needed daily. She says, “It’s confusing to keep up with her healthcare and it’s not centrally managed by one provider. She has to work individually with various specialists.” Boy do I feel like Oprah at this moment, “you get a resource, you get a resource, and you get a resource.” In fact, we now have the Questions are the Answer Website, which provides tips for helping someone (including yourself) prepare for appointments before, during and after a visit to your primary care office. The Administration on Aging Eldercare Locator helps you locate Area Agency on Agency (AAA) locations in your own or loved one’s area by simply entering your zip code.  Note:  I was quite successful at coordinating a few home modifications for my mom (long distance, mind you) through her local AAA. They understood my need for specific details regarding the home visit, were respectful of my concern for my mom, and accommodated my requests as much as possible.

It’s not easy… and I am not close enough to where I can do all these things for them.”

Let’s think out of the box.

When asked what resources they felt were needed to help support their parents with decision making regarding aging in place, I found one person’s response profoundly honest:  “Tools to help start or have conversations about all this stuff – what questions to ask. I have no idea if my parents have even talked about this with each other. I would probably search for a caregiver’s association or AARP to see what they have. But really, I don’t know of “the” place to go to get this kind of help or information. Maybe there is a lot out there – I haven’t yet actually searched.

I imagine she’s not alone, and I would suggest visiting the National Aging in Place Council, which is another excellent starting point to bridge the gap between questions, answers and taking action on aging in place resources. As health communicators, I believe this foreseeable need presents an important opportunity we cannot afford to overlook.

“Aging-in-place to me means that she’s able to grow old in her own home with minimal assistance.”

So, if money were no object, what would you do to make your parents/loved one’s home more comfortable and safer?  Responses from the group of women ranged from making adaptations to the home – to organizing an in-home assistant, getting a security system, and ensuring they have resources that allow them “to enjoy these ‘golden years’ and not have to worry about missing doctor’s appointments s because they can’t afford the co-pay or the prescription medication. Well, this might not be a substitute for an in-home assistant, but I found two mobile apps on AARP that can help us help our parents/loved ones with medication management (adherence).  Additionally, Emergencylink allows you to store important contacts and records in one place.  Both are available for iPad, iPhone, and Android users. Technology has proven to bridge gaps across the world and we now have an unprecedented opportunity to use it to care for our aging population, even those far away.

 “I would make sure they had a home with NO steps!  No one ever considers getting older and we buy these homes thinking we will live forever.”

The “a-ha” moment for me is the resources at our fingertips now are so very different than the resources our parents have. Some of that is generational, our parents are living longer and a huge part is technology and the opportunity it presents. As we all live longer, what can we do to care for our elders and prepare our children to care for us? There’s probably a few apps for that. What other opportunities do you foresee technology and social media presenting for us in healthcare, particularly your Aging in Place? I think we’ve only seen the beginning.

 “Aging-in-place to me, means she’s able to grow old in her own home with minimal assistance.”

About Rachael Seda:

AE, Health PR @PadillaCRT. Grew up barefoot in Hawaii. Social media geek. #JMU alum. Runner. Creative. Optimist. Cheese=my weakness. I dream of traveling the world.

12 Comments on “How Technology is Making Aging in Place Possible

  1.  by  Rachael Seda

    Janine, what a great post. It completely opened my eyes to the opportunity we now have that perhaps our grandparents didn’t to take care of our future generations. I think technology really presents some positive opportunities in this arena and I can only imagine what the possibilities will be once millennials begin to age. Thank you for sharing your view point with us and opening my eyes to the opportunity and responsibility we all have to use technology to create better care.

  2.  by  Janine Payne

    Rachel –
    I appreciate your comment and opportunity to share my thoughts about an issues that I’m passionate about, and honestly…are planning towards…with some resistance of course.

    I think the more tools we use to help us plan for aging in place, taking care of our health (appt/medication reminders, etc) and planning for retirement – the easier our transitions will be, and of course ease the mind of our children/other loved ones.

  3.  by  H.V.B.

    Ms. Janine, all I can say is “Wow!” I have been surrounded by this wealth of information almost everyday, but reading it in your well thought out way, helped me to look at some things. I admit I am a bit technology-deficient, i.e., there are times when I haven’t a clue as to the depth and breadth of the types of information I should be making inquiry of…especially since I’m standing at the doorway of becoming a sexagenerian in 2014. Thank you for jumpstarting my thinking on aging in place. It’s funny. I never missed a beat preparing my mom, and even took joy in finding out certain things for her. But now I realize I am my mom, or at least walking a somewhat similar path. Knowledge truly is power and empowering.

  4.  by  Janine Payne

    HVB – I’m encouraged that you found the information helpful. Every day I see examples of how technology can help us manage our lives, and are more thoughtful about what I would need to do in my own home to make it more livable years down the line. I am compiling more tech resources and home management tools that will help us age in place, gracefully. Stay tuned. We can do this! Chant with me: “We can do this, we can do this, we can do this!!”
    Have a good life.

  5.  by  Sherrill DeBrew

    Janine, the article was awesome. After reading it I thought to myself that I need to start thing about my future, and having that dreaded talk with my kids. I think sometimes they think I will live forever.

  6.  by  Janine Payne

    Ohhhhh Sherrill, you have no idea how your kids will appreciate you – love you even more – if you broach the subject of planning for aging in place, first! Go for it – and let me know how it goes. You remind me to separately address a few specific issues related to aging. So much to talk about!
    Enjoy life.

  7.  by  Lisa

    Thougt-provoking post, Janine. I have always said that I don’t fear death, but reading this makes me realize that I do have some fears about aging. One of the quotes you included specifically resonated with me –I do not have any children, so I pray that my brother, sister and nieces and nephews all out-live me and have enough wherewithall to throw a little compassion and assistance my way!

  8.  by  Janine Payne

    Hi Lisa – thank you so much for your feedback! Your post humored me. Just remember to acknowledge everyone’s birthday, and they will surely care for you in your mature years 🙂
    Very funny – thanks again for your comment.

  9.  by  Rachel Adelson, @stayingpowerbk

    Thanks for this wonderful essay. You highlighted the emotional journey of helping one’s parents age in place and called our attention to key high-tech and low-tech resources. People are feeling isolated and searching for information — it’s almost as if we hear too much and yet not enough about aging. I encourage people to contact their local Areas of Aging, as you say. There are experts, there are people who understand. Educating ourselves about normal aging is key, which is one of the reasons I wrote my book Staying Power: Age-Proof Your Home for Comfort, Safety and Style. I hope it helps take the mystery and fear out of our extended middle age and later years. Once we understand, we can respond.

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