Home tech is helping Canadians age in place
“Staying home” looks to be in our past as the pandemic subsides. But for many senior Canadians, staying home is preferred lifestyle.
Nearly 95 per cent of seniors said they want to stay in their own homes as they age, according to a recent survey commissioned by CARP, formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
“The good news is we’re all living longer, thanks to improvements in lifestyle, medicine, and healthcare,” says Bill VanGorder, COO and chief policy officer of CARP. “More and more people want to stay in their homes … and technology can help significantly.
“Older Canadians may have kicked and screamed into the digital age,” says VanGorder, who cites COVID-19 as a major driver in tech adoption by seniors. “But not only did it allow them to remain connected, enjoy entertainment, and virtually visit with medical professionals, there’s now familiarity and comfort with these devices.”
Norman Appel, 102, is a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran who lives on his own in a condo in north Toronto with the help of his primary caregiver and daughter, Shelley, and some technology including a FirstCall pendant for fall detection.
“I did have a fall a while back and was asked (by the operator though the pendant), ‘Are you OK? Should we call 911?’” says Appel, who uses a walker to get around. “I always wear it, just in case.”
Appel also owns a smart TV, smartphone phone and a Google Nest speaker. “It’s a wonderful gadget,” Appel says of the Google Assistant-powered device he keeps in his living room. “I play music on it, ask about the weather, information about an actor, and so on. The technology is unbelievable.”
The following is a look at some of the main living-in-place tech categories:
Emergency pendants, fall detection: “There are many technical aids that go beyond the ‘Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,’” says VanGorder, with a nod to the late 1980s TV commercial.
Emergency pendants, worn around the neck or wrist, vary between solutions — some that work outside, offer two-way voice support, or with a fall-detection feature so an emergency contact is automatically notified.
Philips Lifeline products are some of the more popular solutions on the market: HomeSafe costs $42.95/month for the landline version or $47.95/month on a cellphone, plus the added fall detection (AutoAlert) for an extra $15/month. The cellular GoSafe option costs $69.95/month or with an in-home communicator, $79.95/month, along with a one-time $89.95 installation fee (though the person can install themselves). The Wandering solution, which can track a loved one’s general location on a smartphone, costs $74.95/month.
Smart watches are also helping to detect falls, and many have additional — and innovative — health monitoring features.
Apple Watch SE (from $369), for example, offers fall detection and an Emergency SOS feature, which can call 911 and notify your emergency contacts if it detects a sudden drop. It also features water-resistance (50 metres), a heart rate monitor, voice-activated Siri support, fitness detection, sleep monitoring, and optional cellular connectivity (usually an extra $10/month with your carrier). You can use Apple Watch to pay for items at retail by waving your wrist over a contactless terminal.
The top-of-the-line Apple Watch Series 7 (from $529) offers a larger display, improved durability, fast charging, and additional sensors to help gauge the wearer’s health, including a built-in ECG (electrocardiogram) to detect a dangerously high or low heart rate, or irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmias). These watches also have a pulse oximeter to assess the amount of oxygen in the body by sending light into your wrist.
With Apple Watch, TELUS Health Companion adds a 24/7 emergency monitoring service with two-way voice to the wrist-mounted device, provided through TELUS Health’s LivingWell Companion national response service.
If a hard fall is detected, or the user makes a call to emergency services, the info is sent to TELUS Health’s national central monitoring station, where a live operator then contacts the customer to confirm the situation and alerts contacts and additional help, if needed.
TELUS Health Companion costs $54/month, and includes a GPS and cellular-enabled Apple Watch SE.
Sensors and cameras: Rather than calling Mom multiple times a day to check in, activity-based sensors around the home can discreetly reassure family or contacts that she’s going about her regular, daily activities. If not, a contact or emergency response service is alerted — via phone, email or text message.