It’s commonly said that aging isn’t for the faint of heart. Advanced age brings with it a number of issues, from decreased mobility to forgetfulness to side effects from medications. These and other issues can significantly add to the average person’s day-to-day challenges.
Many of these issues become evident as those in their senior years transition to a season of aging at home. Simple tasks that were once handled with ease become challenging and, in many cases, dangerous. “As we come out of Covid, many older people are facing these issues for the first time,” explains Alex Qi, CEO of Pontosense, an engineering-focused company committed to enhancing global safety and peace of mind by leveraging the power of wireless intelligence sensing. “During Covid, younger people facing financial challenges from lack of work moved back home to live with their parents or grandparents, which put them in a position to provide assistance. Now they are moving out again, leaving aging people to face these challenges alone.” Assisted living facilities provide a solution to the common problems associated with aging at home, but it’s one most people are not excited about. According to a recent survey89 percent of those 55 and older desire to spend their senior years in their homes.
Alternatively, older adults and those who care for them are embracing a number of innovative approaches that solve the common problems associated with aging at home.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36 million fallsare reported among older adults annually, resulting in more than 32,000 deaths. One out of every five falls causes an injury. Preventing falls begins with identifying the factors that cause them and taking steps to mitigate those factors. “Incontinence at night, or nocturia, is one of the main reasons for falls leading to hip fractures and head trauma,” explains Gloria Kolb, CEO and Co-founder of ELITONE. “Imagine: It’s dark, you’re in a rush, and after getting up multiple times with poor sleep, your cognitive function declines. Helping to reduce the number of times you need to wake at night due to urination is key to longevity.” Kolb is an inventor with 30 patents who has also been featured in Forbesas a Top Scientist Driving Innovation in Women's Health. ELITONE, which uses electrical muscle stimulation to improve pelvic floor and bladder health, is an FDA-cleared, non-invasive wearable treatment for women with urinary incontinence. “Caring for a loved one with dementia presents a unique set of challenges that can be emotionally taxing and complex,” explains Barbara Huelat, a prominent human-centric healthcare designer, author, and speaker. “The disease's progression gradually strips away cognitive abilities, leaving individuals increasingly dependent on their caregivers. While this journey is undoubtedly demanding, understanding the specific challenges can help prepare caregivers for the path ahead.”
Huelat has created healing environments and solved health challenges for over 300 healthcare organizations and serves as a healing environment consultant to healthcare facilities, product manufacturers, academia, institutions, and the architectural design community. Her latest book, “Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver's Guide to Interventions that Make a Difference,” provides a compassionate and insightful guide to those facing the tumultuous journey of dementia, offering solace, support, and practical strategies to navigate this challenging path.
“Dementia can affect an individual's ability to perceive and respond to danger,” Huelat says. “This heightened fall risk necessitates a thorough home safety assessment. Potential hazards, such as sharp kitchen utensils, hot stovetops, or loose stair treads, should be identified and addressed.”
Qi points out it’s not a fall that is most dangerous for those aging at home, but the time after a fall when injuries must be identified and addressed.
“It’s critical that those who experience a fall are found quickly,” Qi explains. “The threat of serious injury increases exponentially the longer they are left unattended. Falls are especially dangerous because they often happen in bedrooms and bathrooms, where people can be reluctant to position monitoring devices they find invasive.”
Qi’s Pontosense aims to solve this issue by using a revolutionary mmWave RADAR sensor to detect breathing, heart rate, and heart rate variability without contact. The technology, which he says serves as a guardian angel for the elderly in situations where they are most vulnerable, has unlimited potential for improving the safety of those aging at home.
Caregivers play a key role in facilitating the aging at home process, but as challenges mount, caregivers can find themselves under an increasing load of stress that can quickly lead to caregiver burnout. When burnout occurs, caregivers are typically not able to provide the quality of care needed by those aging at home.
Many of the innovative solutions that support aging at home assist in reducing the load on caregivers.
“Incontinence is the number one reason for entry into nursing homes,” shares Kolb. “Family members are just not equipped to deal with the issue constantly. Additionally, those who suffer from incontinence are often too ashamed to have a family member change their diaper or clean up their accidents. Addressing the issue effectively can play a big role in reducing caregiver burnout.”
Huelat also points to caregiver well-being as a key component in an effective aging at home strategy.
“The constant stress and demands of caregiving can lead to burnout, manifesting in physical and emotional health problems,” she says. “Caregivers must prioritize their own well-being by seeking respite care, joining support groups, and practicing self-care strategies.”
Those entering the season of aging at home and those committed to supporting them face a number of challenges. However, none of the challenges are insurmountable. By identifying, accepting, and addressing the key challenges, it’s possible to create environments and routines that support safe and satisfying aging at home.