is a major part of our lives, allowing us to be busier than ever, multitasking
and continuously in communication. We expect that technology can make us live
longer and healthier lives, though our faster pace, higher stress, more
information-rich lives may not be better for our health than the more
person-centric lifestyle that worked well for humans for countless generations in
everyone has a phone and in 2018, 77% of Americans owned smartphones, according to Pew
Research Center. We’ve reached a point where about 85% of older adults own a cell
phone of some kind, with 46% of those over 65 owning a smartphone. A Pew
Research survey in March of 2018 found that 77% of Americans are online at
least daily, with 26% almost constantly. As time marches on, ubiquitous phones
and other technology will change our lives.
There are a few new technologies that really stand out as holding
unique promise for changing the lives of older adults. One of the most
interesting new technologies is Facebook
Spaces. This is a virtual reality application that allows you to feel like
you are traveling to places with your family or friends, despite the fact each
of you may actually be by yourself and nowhere near each other. It doesn’t
matter if you are on one side of the earth while your relatives are in Los
Angeles. You can each put on a headset and feel like you are together (since
you can see and talk to each other), and you look around and appear to be in
the same place. That place could be your home, a famous landmark, indoors or
outdoors, in the past or the present. All you need is a 360-degree picture of a
place, and you can look around and feel like you are truly there together. This
is very valuable for reminiscing about old times or forming new memories together.
The main challenge to using this is that each of the participants needs
to have a fairly high-end computer with a powerful graphics card and the Oculus Rift VR system – combined that
will cost at least $2,000. Over time, the cost should drop as similar things
can be done on the much cheaper Oculus
Go ($200) or Samsung Gear VR
(which requires a Samsung S7 or newer Samsung Galaxy Series phone). Virtual reality can be a way to feel like you
go to work, or to the gym, or even somewhere new. For people who can’t easily
do things in the real world, there is an unlimited range of things you can feel
capable of doing, and that may be a good feeling.
There are other very powerful technologies as well, including the Amazon Echo which can have custom-made
skills for conversations or, if you are diabetic, the Guardian Connection Continuous Glucose Monitoring adhesive pads
that continuously monitor your blood sugar so you don’t have to draw blood from
Measurable smart watches or smart clothes with sensors could monitor
your heart when you don’t feel well, or identify changes in activity level,
body heat, or other signs of health that could alert you to issues of concern. Family
members can stay in the loop when they are worried about you.
Finally, there have been many robots released recently which have an
interesting range of abilities. Not quite enough to cook you a meal or keep up
a conversation all day long yet, but
with each year they improve. Jibo, EllieQ, and the still-yet-to-be-revealed
Hoaloha robot (by early Microsoft
developer Tandy Trower) could hold the secret to companionship for people who
have few opportunities for socialization.
About the Author
Aaron Hagedorn, MHA/MSG, PhD is an Associate
Professor of Instruction at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. His
recent research focus is the impact of virtual reality on mood and locus of
control in older adults who are socially isolated. He works closely with
master’s degree students interested in gaining research experience. Dr.
Hagedorn has published research on chronic disease trends among men and women,
as well as on trends in disability in the older population. He is an
active member of the Gerontological Society of America and the California
Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics.
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