Guest Blog: Older Adults and “Cutting-edge” Technology

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By Sally Hughes

What are the challenges in later life that persist as barriers to optimal creative, active aging? What are the most current technological advances that might help to increase older adults’ wellbeing? And how can older adults increase their access to the newer innovative technological products?

One of many stereotypes around aging is that seniors are resistant to new ideas and advances in technology. Not all seniors feel comfortable using technology, either because they don’t trust it or don’t understand how to use it. However, seniors were the first group to adopt wearables: in 1972, gerontologist Andrew Dibner created the Lifeline call button, a wearable emergency response system specifically designed to assist seniors.

The market of older adults (coined as the ‘silver market’ by Kohlbacher and Hang, 2011) is blossoming because their demand for new, just-good-enough, easy to use, and affordable products and services has increased so exponentially. However, research about barriers and challenges that face older adults who use technology is scarce…a lot more exploration needs to be done to ensure that the technology is accessible and easy to use, and designed with the older consumer in mind.

Today’s cohort of ‘seniors’ are functioning in a digital world where new social networks or “communities” seem to spring up on the Internet constantly. There are many social networks (groupings of individuals tied by one or more specific types of interests) available on the Internet that are useful and suitable for older adults: those living in rural areas, or who are living alone, may derive great benefit from the Internet. Social networking can be a way to meet online with local people or people from around the world. Major life changes such as relocation or divorce can leave a huge void in people’s lives, and finding a social networking site for older people can help to rebuild confidence and widen social circles.

“Baby Boomers” reconnect with old friends, make new friends, or simply to share personal information and media files (photos, videos, music) with others, all with the benefit of keeping them mentally and socially vital. As well as the large social networking sites, there is a plethora of smaller and more specialized sites that have been set up for specific interests, such as ‘Ravelry’, a site for knitters and crocheters, and ‘Bakespace’, a place to exchange recipes.

Directories are available (e.g. Wikipedia, Yahoo) to assist in finding sites. Some are:

  • Silversurfers – to connect with people from similar walks of life
  • Yahoo Groups – interests/hobbies
  • Meetup – connects with people in the community to try something new
  • seniorchatters – a place to chat, create personal blogs and join group forums
  • 50connect– living life to the full, health, entertainment, food & drink
  • Dogster – a site dedicated to dog lovers
  • Catster – a site dedicated to cat lovers
  • Hell’s Geriatrics – invites you to grow old disgracefully
  • The Oldie – an online newspaper for over 50s
  • Modern & Mature – a site aimed to help you make the most of your golden years
  • olderiswiser – branded as the ‘social networking site for grown-ups’
  • Never Mind The Bus Pass – a site aimed at those who don’t feel ‘older’
  • Gransnet – a website specifically aimed at grandparents
  • Over50sForum – a place to chat, share and make friends
  • fiftyplusforum – a forum to discuss interests and chat to others
  • Seniors.com – offers its members an online community who participate in its forums, chat functionalities, and other site-based tools designed to encourage members to share information and stories
  • ThirdAge – discusses issues concerning health, aging and retirement
  • CARP – news, games, photos, videos, or even tips on where to get discounts
  • Rezoom – to create a personal profile, share and connect with others and share photos
  • Multiply – (in use long before Facebook) has fun tools such as cards, calendars, photo editing, and more
  • Senior Chatroom – its focus is making web chat much easier and accessible to older adults
  • My Boomer Place – describes itself as a place to “meet, congregate and develop new relationships.” You can freely create your own profile and share information

Sharing links, photos, videos, news and status updates with a growing network of contacts with people of all ages can provide a valuable connection to faraway family and friends: the children and grandchildren of older adults document many aspects of their lives through social media.

There are many online forums where older Canadians are coping with challenging life situations, such as informal caregivers of a partner or parent with dementia or other health conditions, can exchange thoughts with others in similar situations, as well as receive and offer support. Older adults who experience loneliness and feelings of being isolated can connect with family and friends, as well as others in similar situations.

A variety of digital tools (‘apps’) are available on smartphones and tablets to simplify and enhance life. In addition to social media apps (Facebook, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat) there are apps for book lovers (GoodReads, Kindle and Kobo), tools to organize shopping (Shopper app, Checkout51), health and fitness apps (FitBit, myfitnesspal, Medisafe Meds and Pills), gardening (My Garden, GrowVeg) and many more.

“Wearable technology” is creating a revolution in the way in which people can ensure their personal safety. Emergency and assistance calls can be made using everything from wearable tags to call units to mobile phones, and the tags can also track movement. There is a plethora of mobile ‘apps’ that collect data (heart rate, blood pressure, and amount of sleep.

Robot companions for older people that promote activity and attempt to address loneliness by encouraging them to take part in digital and physical activities are continuing to surface. Robot companions like the Paro (a touch-reactive electronic harp seal) have been shown to induce relaxation, reduce stress, and stimulate communication. Subsequent robots (e.g. ‘Palro’) offer to play games and dance with older adults, keeping their minds active with trivia. Home assistants such as the Amazon Echo, have been the precursors for interactive communication: these robots have voice-activated control systems and enable users to make video calls, play online games and interact on social media.

In the future, personal robots could aid older isolated people with time consuming household and personal hygiene tasks, such as showering or using the toilet, which can create an embarrassing dynamic between an older adult and the caregiver, and so also might make ideal tasks for robot care assistants. Furthermore, with the aid of personal robots, caregivers could spend more time engaging in one-on-one conversation, providing valuable social interaction.

We live in exciting times, and the potential for older adults to benefit from the new, innovative technologies is enormous! Once the research and exploration is done to ensure that the design and usability is optimized, technological ‘gadgets’ and social networking can really improve the quality of life for many older adults.

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Sally is a long-term part time professor at Sheridan, teaching in the SSW/Gerontology program since 1985. After retiring from her 30-year position as a hospital/ geriatric social worker, she chose to re-enter university on her 65th birthday and has achieved her PhD in Social Dimensions of Health this past year.

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Guest Blog: Dancing through life: Participation in a dance training program for community-based older adults with multiple medical comorbidities issues

By Kate Dupuis

Dance is one of the oldest art forms, with depictions of dancers dating back over 30,000 years. Even if we think that we have “two left feet”, when a favourite song comes on the radio, it is hard not to tap our toes or dance along in our seats. Throughout our lifespan, dance can help us to connect with others, express our emotions, and strengthen our bodies. Indeed, dance has many potential benefits as we age. Research has shown that, as we age, dance can benefit cognitive health (for example, improvements in memory and processing speed when remembering fancy footwork during ballroom dancing, or trying to keep up with the caller’s instructions when square dancing), physical health (increased strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance), mental well-being (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression), and social well-being (developing connections with others through dance, making new friends, getting to know the instructor). The physical benefits of dance may be particularly crucial for those older adults with mobility issues who may be at a heightened risk of falls. While many communities offer dance programs, these may not account for or provide accommodations for individuals who are experiencing multiple medical comorbidities, including mobility challenges.

At the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, we are currently conducting a research study in which community-dwelling older adults with mobility issues and at least two other medical comorbidities (e.g., high blood pressure, vision loss) are participating in 12 weeks of twice-weekly dance instruction. The sessions are led by a professionally-trained dance instructor, who has taken the time to understand each participant’s strengths and challenges, and makes specific accommodations for each of the dancers depending on their needs. We spoke with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, who said that “the decision was made to hire a professionally-trained dancer in order to capitalize on the extensive repertoire of material from her own training and performances which she can draw upon for inspiration and instruction during the sessions. In addition, professionally-trained dancers understand the biomechanics and anatomy involved in dance, which results in these teachers being able to make a wide variety of accommodations for their participants.” These accommodations are necessary and welcome for our participants.

The dance instructor, Paula Skimin, reports that she has seen remarkable improvements in the participants over the course of the program, including improvements in balance, stability, and “developing a knowledge of their skeleton and skeletal structure, which allows for more stability.” She stated that, from a social perspective, the participants have become comfortable sharing with one another, and that many have cried during class when specific songs have touched them. She has worked to “create a safe space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and to share about their past, present, and future.”

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researcher will meet with each of the participants individually to discuss their perspective on the program. Many of them have already expressed a desire to continue with their dancing. We hope that, with new evidence to support the provision of dance training for individuals with multiple medical comorbidities, we will be able to offer similar programs in the future!

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Kate Dupuis is the new Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at Sheridan College. She studies how participation in the creative and performing arts can serve to enhance the wellbeing of older adults. In particular, Kate is interested in discovering the personal characteristics of individuals who are drawn to participate in the arts, and identifying the physical, psychological, social, and systemic barriers to participation.

Guest Blog: Personal Training Works at Any Age


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By Erin Billowits

The traditional image of personal training is a buff twenty-something trainer asking clients to ‘drop down and give them 20 pushups’. The world of personal training has changed in the last ten years to a place with trainers specialized in pre and post natal care, weight loss and active aging to name a few. If you have a complicated health history, low motivation or haven’t exercised in years don’t be intimidated to work with a personal trainer.

A few questions to ask yourself before hiring a personal trainer:

  1. What do you want to get out of the sessions? What are your fitness goals? One of the benefits of working with a trainer is developing and tracking fitness goals. Pick a goal that will impact your life as opposed to focusing solely on the number on a scale. How about training for a trip that you are planning, reducing the pain in your knees so you can walk more or sleep better or trying a new sport or activity?
  2. What personality style do you find motivating? You will spend quite a bit of time with your personal trainer and it is important that you find them motivating and enjoyable to be with. Do you like people who motivate by example, a trainer whose positive energy gets you through the session or maybe a trainer that diligently tracks and reports your progress works best for you. Knowing what style you find most inspiring will set you up to stick with your exercise program.
  3. What is stopping you now? Without judging or blaming yourself spend some time thinking about what is stopping you from exercising now. Is it lack of motivation? Being unsure of which exercises to do? Pain? Your trainer choice may be different depending on your answer.
  4. What could interfere with success? Some days it will be harder to exercise than others but if you think through what could get in your way and plan around it you will break through your barriers to exercise. What happens if it is raining on the morning of a planned walk; your appointment went 30 minutes over or an old injury flares up? A good trainer should ask you what could interfere with your success and plan around it.
  5. What qualifications and references do they have? All personal trainers in Canada need to be certified. Ask to see their certifications and to call a past client for a reference. If you are an older adult make sure that they have specialized training and well as experience working with any health conditions or injuries that you have.

Erin Billowits is the owner of Vintage Fitness, an in home personal training company which are experts in 50+ fitness. For more information go to www.vintagefitness.ca. If you are interested in on-line personal training go to www.spirit50.com.

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Technology and Aging: Technology to Support Aging in Place

Aging in place has become a popular term to describe an older adult’s wish to age in his or her own home and neighbourhood. Numerous studies have shown that this option is preferred by a large majority of North Americans.

For those who plan to age in place, technology has the capacity to provide support for them and for their caregivers. For example, home monitoring devices allow an individual’s family/caregiver to keep track of their activities and well-being. Listed below is a small sampling of home monitoring devices and what they have to offer.

evermind

Evermind for family caregivers tracks an individual’s routine, such as brewing a morning cup of coffee, by detecting when electrical appliances are turned on and off. This system maintains an individual’s privacy by allowing caregivers to detect changes in activity that may be cause for concern without the use of invasive cameras.

Beclose

BeClose uses sensors placed around the home to keep track of normal routines. When something is out of the ordinary a caregiver is notified by text, email or phone call.

LivelyLive!y uses sensors attached to movable objects around the home such as the refrigerator door and the front door to collect data on behavior patterns, detect abnormalities and alert caregivers.

carepredict

CarePredict offers a wearable sensor called Tempo that tracks small changes in daily routines. Since the sensor is worn by the individual it has the ability to track the time spent doing certain activities such as laying down for an afternoon nap. If more time is spent doing this activity than normal it will alert a caregiver of a possible change in well-being.

Medical Alert Systems can also provide peace of mind but as with all purchases it is important to do your homework. An article in The Senior List entitled Medical Alert Systems: Everything You Need to Know offers some good advice.