Technology that allows seniors to age on the fly | States and regions

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John W. Bateman Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – Mel Washburn is a former firefighter, professor, and litigation attorney. After his retirement, whether fighting fires in his buildings, classrooms, or courtrooms, he found that 90% of his social life revolved around his work.

Washburn, 77, knew he needed to find a way to build his social network after retirement. Washburn also knew that he and his wife Pam, 75, wanted to continue living independently at home.

He soon learned that technology could play a key role in achieving both goals.

As early members of The Village Chicago, a membership organization dedicated to connecting Chicagoans over the age of 50 and improving their quality of life, the Washburns now interact through both in-person and Zoom events. I’m here. We also rely on technology to maintain a safe environment at home.

Washburn is part of a growing population. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050 he will have more than 2 billion people over the age of 60. America is changing too. According to Rodney Harrell, AARP’s vice president of families, homes and communities, “In 2034, for the first time, there will be more people over the age of 50 than under the age of 18.” Illinois, where 16.6% are over the age of 65, is no exception.

On September 7, 2022, Mel Washburn is at home working on her computer.

Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

“Most people want to live in their own homes into their old age,” Harrell said. And technology is increasingly making it possible, from touchless faucets to voice-controlled lights.

But as Harrell points out, only 1% of homes have features that need to age.

Felice Eckhouse, founder of Elderspace, a Chicago business that helps clients design and remodel homes so that they can age in their place, is a gap that has seen little adaptation since World War II. I think it’s in the design that isn’t. “It’s a yin and yang that can’t be helped. You need an unmodified space before you can access your gadget,” he says.

But Harrell believes technology could fill some of this gap. “Our focus[at AARP]is on changes that can be made at home regardless of medical condition. Technology can’t do everything, but it does wonders,” he said.

Even at home, Eckhouse says:

Smartphones also provide basic assistance in daily tasks and communication.

“I still use technology in a normal way. If I need to look something up, I look it up online,” says Mel Washburn. “Without the news, books, calling people, I would be seriously bored without my phone.”

My wife, Pam, who has multiple sclerosis, relies heavily on her smartphone for daily communication.

getting started

Identifying technology solutions for people living in inadequate homes can feel like a chicken and egg problem. That’s because many technologies require high-speed internet, and it’s not universal, said Laurie Orloff, a principal at Aging and Health Technology Watch, an industry research firm, and his analyst. says.

However, with the introduction of Internet services, a wide range of options such as voice-based technology, motion-detecting cameras, and sensors were used to identify potential problems and help make the world as safe as possible. It can be used for predictive analytics,” Orlov said. ”

But not everyone is tech savvy.


Mel Washburn checks her schedule on her computer at home on Sept. 7, 2022.

Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Mel Washburn remembers Dictaphone and secretarial pools, but he also experienced evolving technology during his 28 years as a partner in a large law firm. She is not used to accepting new devices by everyone.

Orlov challenges the common misconception that baby boomers are more tech-savvy than previous generations. Baby boomers have acquired a certain amount of comfort, but they want to keep what they have while the forces in the tech industry change.

“Most people don’t update their phones as fast as updates come,” says Orlov. Ultimately, this leads to disabled old devices, such as phones that worked on 3G networks but he no longer works on 5G. As a result, “the baby boomer generation will be frustrated (just like the generation before them),” she said.

No one-size-fits-all solution

Still, technology can help seniors age in place in many ways, whether it’s the free tablets through the Illinois Department of Aging program or the use of Zoom at The Village Chicago’s movie club.

“Technology has the potential to significantly enhance home functionality and address some of the gaps,” Harrell said. Touchless faucets, activity monitors and voice-controlled lights aren’t the only technology to address low vision and prevent falls. “There is a burgeoning technology for sensors that understand behavior, such as when someone gets out of bed,” he says.

Jim Rosenthal, CEO of, a free information resource for seniors and their families, says even Alexa can be used for more than just turning on a light. “It can go a lot further down to cameras, microphones, and the ability to see everything that is going on to know that the parent is fine.”

Technology doesn’t have to be complicated either. Patricia Greenberg, owner of The Fitness Gourmet and author of the book Eat Well, Live Well, Age Well, says Noom and her MyFitnessPal are some of the best ways seniors can track their nutrition and exercise habits. She says she loves apps that help her. These are just another way technology can help older people maintain healthy, independent lives.

find the answer

Sorting through all the available apps and technologies can be daunting, but organizations like Village Chicago can help. In addition, resources such as AARP,, and the Illinois Assistive Technology Program, which provide free information and technology assistance, provide important information. For Illinois residents, the Illinois Department of Aging offers a senior helpline at 1-800-252-8966.

Amy Lulich, Senior Policy Advisor for the Illinois Department of Aging, said: receive. “

2 Illinois site has new name and derogatory term removed

This may include Illinois Care Connections, which provides free iPads, tablets, and Wi-Fi hotspots to qualified individuals through the Illinois Assistive Technology Program. IATP also has other programs and assistive technology demonstrations. Public programs like assistive technology programs can have limited people available to serve, so the Illinois Senior Help Line is a good starting point.

What works for one person may not work for another. In some cases, “technology isn’t always the best solution,” says Rosenthal of

According to IATP Executive Director Willie Gunther, “The problem we face now is that older people must be educated as soon as possible about what is possible before it becomes an emergency. .”