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Networking the ‘Silver Tsunami’

Technology solutions increase seniors’ independence while placing new demands on care communities.

The baby boom has become a senior boom, with about 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day. This population shift — also known as the “silver tsunami” — has significant social and economic implications. It also has great bearing on technology, because the future of senior living will surely be digital.

A Better, Longer Life — Digitally

Most senior boomers want to live independently for as long as possible, whether that means staying in their own home or moving to a senior community that offers services to make their lives easier as they age.

Technology can play an important role in helping aging boomers maintain this independence. That’s why senior community providers such as Masonic Homes of California are piloting digitally enhanced living environments. These enhancements include:

  • Visual doorbells that flash a light when a visitor arrives, so that a senior who is hard of hearing will know when someone is at the door.
  • Bed sensors that track respiration rate, heart rate and other metrics.
  • Motion sensors that turn on lights in hallways and bathrooms to prevent falls when residents get up during the night.
  • Digital medication dispensers that help seniors manage complex medication regimens, alerting them if they forget to take a pill at the appropriate time.

Digitally enhanced senior living pilots are also leveraging personal health monitors, including wearables such as Fitbits, digital scales and blood pressure monitors, and other devices that can transmit health-related data wherever it’s needed.

To further ease independent living, forward-thinking communities will likely provide speech-based digital assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. These devices make it easier for seniors to do everything from controlling their home entertainment systems to calling 911 in the event of a medical emergency.

The Network as the Lifeline

As important as these various individual technologies may be, networking is what ties the whole solution together. In fact, new models for senior living have some stringent networking requirements, such as:

  • Robust in-residence wireless: For digitally enhanced living spaces to function properly, in-residence connectivity has to reliably reach every corner of the resident’s home — from the front door to smart kitchen appliances to the bedroom and the bath. In-residence Wi-Fi bandwidth must also be sufficient to support streaming media, because residents increasingly use their mobile devices for home entertainment and for video conferencing with family and friends.

  • Remote aggregation: Organizations supporting seniors with digital services need sufficient network capacity to gather data from large numbers of residences so they can quickly detect potential problems and use analytics to continuously improve quality of care. Today, these organizations are most likely managers of multi-unit senior living facilities. In the future, however, it is likely that a new class of service provider will digitally support clients living in their own homes across a broader geographic area.

  • Security, privacy and compliance: With so much personal and potentially sensitive data moving across the network, it’s important to ensure that all communications are properly secured against unauthorized access. Regulatory mandates such as HIPAA also require that operators of such networks be able to credibly document their technical diligence regarding data protection and safety.

So, yes, the ability of tomorrow’s seniors to maintain an independent lifestyle well into their later years will be greatly enhanced by technology. And, yes, that technology will include innovative digitally enabled devices that range from doorbells to thermostats. But to make it all work, the right underlying infrastructure is essential — and that infrastructure must be reliable, secure and easy to manage remotely.

To learn more about advances in senior care communities, read “Better Connecting Seniors at Home.”

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Dec 30 2016

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