can reduce the hours of personal assistance that older adults require in their daily activities (Agree, 1999; Freedman et al., 2006; Mann et al., 1999). One study found that people who needed assistance with ADLs and who did not use any assistive devices required an average of 4 additional hours of personal care per week compared with individuals who did employ the devices (Hoenig et al., 2003). With newer technologies on the horizon, it may be possible to make even further reductions in the amount of personal assistance required.
Assistive technologies range from the very basic to the highly complex. Examples include products such as canes, walkers, hand rails, shower seats, and bath mats, as well as durable equipment such as power wheelchairs and medical devices such as hearing aids. Recent advances in medication-related technologies include smart patches, which assist in regulating drug release, and smart caps, which are placed on medication vials and allow for remote monitoring of medication adherence.
A number of more complex technologies have also been developed, such as environmental intelligence systems that assist older adults in maintaining independent functioning, reducing the need for personal assistance and putting off the time they must leave their homes for some place where others can help take care of them (Mann et al., 1999). “Smart homes,” for example, allow older adults to operate household fixtures and appliances (e.g., lights, televisions, dishwashers, window blinds, and other electrical devices) more easily. Many of these homes include motion detectors that sense movement and respond by lighting pathways; other features include remote control shelves and cupboards that can automatically adjust in height when needed for use. Smart kitchen components, such as smart microwaves and smart stoves, can help older adults in cooking their own meals.
Another group of technologies, telemonitoring and telesurveillance devices, allow health care providers to monitor older adults in their homes. For patients with medical needs and cognitive impairments, these devices provide a direct link to care without the need for visits by medical personnel to the site. This can improve patient access to care, as well as the efficiency of the care provided. Although there are privacy concerns, these technologies provide older adults with direct and immediate medical contact if they need it. In addition to increasing patient safety (Mann et al., 2001), this type of communication system has been shown in one study to reduce hospital stays, reduce demand for home-care services, and assist in relieving caregiver stress (Vincent et al., 2006).