To Stay at Home, Seniors Will Embrace Technology

When independent living is in the balance, older folks will adopt new gadgets and high-tech solutions.

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Granny is ready for gadgetry. According to a report released Friday by AARP, older people are willing to use devices—like those that regulate lights and temperature, detect when someone has fallen, or monitor blood pressure—if doing so will help them continue living in their own home. "Here's a population who did not grow up with this technology but is willing to use it to maintain independence, choice, and control," says Elinor Ginzler, AARP's senior vice president for livable communities. The reason, she explains, is that the stakes are high.

Seniors' family caregivers also see a benefit to implementing techie solutions. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said technology could "make them feel the person they care for is safer" and offer peace of mind. But both the seniors and their caregivers agreed that cost is a concern: Eighty percent of the former and 75 percent of the latter are willing to pay no more than $50 per month for safety technologies such as fall detectors and other devices for their home.

The grand irony, however, is that more than 8 in 10 caregivers—typically adult children—believe they'd receive pushback from their elders if they tried to get them to use such assistive technology. Hmmm, a clear disconnect. The best way to unravel the misunderstanding is to have the conversation, as hard as that may be. And the ideal time to discuss helping parents with technology—or their finances, health, cognition, or any issue related to aging—is now, as U.S. News recently explained in depth.

To be sure, adopting devices to make aging at home safer and easier also involves an awareness of what's available. Finding that information, says Ginzler, can be pretty difficult, especially if you're not accustomed to using technology to begin with. A rather wonky report issued Friday by the Center for Aging Services Technologies overviews some of the available technology for both home and institutional settings as well as gadgets under development, like a walker that can assess balance and gait and send data electronically to a physician or caregiver. Another new report from CAST lays out experts' opinions of what barriers to adoption exist.

If you're caring for an aging parent—or anticipating shouldering more responsibility—use these 15 tips to avert, or at least smooth, some of the challenges.

—Sarah Baldauf