Stephen Golant, PhD, gerontologist and professor at University of Florida, Gainesville. He is a fellow in The Gerontological Society of America, a leading national speaker and writer and author of Aging in the Right Place.
Technology that could help seniors live independently for longer is rapidly reaching the market—but its intended users often are less than enthused. Seniors’ resistance to “gerontechnology”—wristwatches that alert loved ones when the wearer falls…home-monitoring sensor systems that send alerts when the resident doesn’t leave his/her bedroom…and other tech products—may surprise younger generations. After all, living at home for as long as possible is a common goal of older Americans, so surely, they should embrace technology that can help them do so safely, right? But gerontech’s would-be beneficiaries may have valid concerns about this tech. Here’s how to address those concerns.
Concern: Constant monitoring makes it difficult to relax at home. Home is supposed to be where we’re free from the scrutiny of others, but gerontech could undermine that. Example: A system that alerts loved ones when a parent is too ill to get out of bed also could trigger a warning when the parent simply decides to sleep in. What to do…
Ask your parents to decide which loved ones will receive the alerts and how those recipients should respond. A parent might select the least panicky family member and request that family members send text messages, not call, when alerts seem unlikely to be true emergencies. In some systems, notifications can be customized so that different family members receive messages at different times of the day and can be enabled or disabled according to the older person’s needs.
Discuss together the degree of monitoring—systems that offer extensive oversight might seem invasive. Monitoring systems that rely on cameras rather than ambient sensors should be avoided. Also discuss whether the parent can occasionally turn off the system for privacy.
Concern: Data could be misused by marketers or scammers. Confirm that the company has privacy rules in place before purchasing any product or service. Information shouldn’t be sold to third parties, for example—and the company should have a track record of protecting customers’ data from hackers.
Concern: High-tech monitoring might mean less human interaction. Reassure parents that loved ones’ calls and visits won’t become less frequent.
Concern: Safety tech can promote overconfidence and tech dependance. A monitoring system that summons help if a parent falls might embolden him to climb a ladder to change a lightbulb…or make an adult child less likely to rush to that parent’s house when he doesn’t answer his phone. Stress that parents should request assistance with potentially risky chores…and parents should agree not to use tech monitoring as an excuse to be less vigilant themselves.
Concern: Tech surveillance could speed parents’ transition to senior-care facilities. When a family starts receiving alerts that the parent has fallen or forgotten to close an outer door, family members may become convinced that the parent needs to move into a senior-care facility.