Could your city's old folks use a helping hand from new technology?

Tue, 2016-11-01 17:22 -- Liz Enbysk

A report released earlier this year by the National Institute of Health and Census Bureau suggests 617 million people in the world today are age 65 or older. But that number is expected to jump nearly 17% -- to 1.6 billion – by 2050. Furthermore, the Census Bureau anticipates that in just a few short years there will be eight million people age 80 or older in the U.S. Read that public health challenges, mobility challenges, housing challenges, financial challenges ahead. Is your city prepared? Scroll down for examples of public agencies using technology and compassion to help their older citizens live more comfortably. – Liz Enbysk


In Japan, where nearly a quarter of the population is over 65 today, efforts to accommodate seniors are clearly evident. The Guardian points out that you'll seldom find a public building or train station in Tokyo without ramps or lifts. And everything from ATMs to traffic lights and elevators talk at you.

In Yokohama, a city near Tokyo, participants in a walking program for those 40 and older receive free pedometers to record their paces and be eligible for prizes or have donations made to charity. It's an effort to promote health and fitness as people age, but also to lower carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging walking over driving.

Nashville's mobility challenge
Mobility is a challenge for seniors accustomed to hopping in a car to get to a doctor's appointment or the grocery store when they can no longer drive. Nashville, Tennessee is considering how to help them.

Nashville was recently named one of 10 cities that will participate in the year-long Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles. Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute are leading the effort to help cities prepare for self-driving cars. The city's Transportation Director Erin Hafkenschiel said in an Associated Press report that she doesn't expect autonomous vehicles to solve all of the city's traffic woes, but could increase mobility for seniors and people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee is working on Senior Ride Nashville, a volunteer-based ride service for older residents expected to launch next year.

Ed Cole, a Council on Aging board member wrote about the project in The Tennessean: "The primary goal of Senior Ride Nashville is to harness the energy, vitality and volunteer spirit of our community to meet the growing mobility needs of our older adult neighbors. Senior Ride Nashville taps into technology to match the need for a trip with the willingness of a volunteer. It offers a way to provide not only a ride, but caring assistance and friendly conversation."

Getting food to NYC's homebound
For elderly and disabled residents with limited mobility, access to food can be a challenge. The food pantry run by the Beth Hark Christian Counseling Center in New York City is trying to find a way to overcome it.

According to the New York Food Policy Center, "transportation to make deliveries -- especially of perishable items -- along with the staff or volunteer force to make them possible is a hurdle too high for many food pantries.

The Beth Hark team is turning to technology, with $30,000 raised through its You Caring Campaign and grants. The money will be used for a dedicated vehicle to transport food to the homebound plus development of an online ordering system and app to improve communication between the pantry and its clients.

Sensors and monitors for aging in place
There are numerous devices available today to help aging populations who want to remain in their own homes as long as possible. Just a few examples include:

  • Montgomery County, Maryland has a program aimed at reducing the number of deaths from in-home accidents; it links Wi-Fi enabled sensors in seniors' homes with emergency responders. The county recently received a grant to replicate its platform for use in other communities.
  • In Portland, Oregon, a study by the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) uses a range of in-home sensors linked through Bluetooth to OHSU's lab. Some of the sensors measure loss of mobility and cognitive function over time. Pillboxes and bathroom scales are also wired, the latter to track weight, body fat, pulse, even Co2 levels.
  • Senior Community Services based in Minnetonka, Minnesota developed CareNextion, a free online tool that allows a senior's family members and other caregivers to easily communicate, collaborate and stay organized through a shared calendar and journal.

Wearable devices are also helping keep track of the elderly. A recent news report out of the UK tells of an elderly Alzheimer's patient described as high risk being found within hours of his wife reporting him missing, thanks to a global positioning system device he was wearing.

As Angela Yphantides, lead commissioner at East Sussex County Council for telehealthcare told the Eastbourne Herald: "This is an excellent example of how technology can be used to safely support vulnerable people to live more independent lives at home."

Sussex Police also noted that in such cases they allocate considerable resources to get vulnerable people home safely but the GPS technology "greatly reduced the effort required to find the missing person."

Related articles…
Making smart cities more accessible for people with disabilities and the aging
German e-health pilot will test passive digital monitoring of the elderly
New initiative will use iPads and apps to improve elder care in Japan

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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