12 Nov 6 Technologies to Combat Senior Loneliness and Isolation
An epidemic of loneliness and isolation among seniors was here long before COVID-19. However, social distancing, greater vulnerabilities to the virus, and stay-at-home orders have made it even worse for older adults. Read about 6 new and innovative technologies for older adults to fight social isolation in the elderly as well as other simple steps that families and loved ones can do to combat loneliness and support mental health.
Loneliness and isolation has reached alarming levels here in the United States: A recent study done by Cigna uncovered that more than three in five Americans are lonely. Young adults are the most likely to report regular feelings of isolation. However, seniors report very high levels of loneliness as well. In fact, more than 40 percent of seniors identify with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Unfortunately, feelings of loneliness and isolation have only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as stay-at-home orders are being lifted and life slowly begins to feel a bit more normal, elders tend to be more pessimistic about their lives post-pandemic.
Just like efforts to combat COVID-19, the fight against loneliness is really a public health concern. Social isolation is linked to a range of health issues for all ages. These include anxiety, depression, dementia, heart disease, and a weaker immune system, as the National Institute on Aging notes.
The world’s medical and business community is rushing to innovate and help solve the issues from the pandemic. These include potential vaccines, telemedicine, deliveries via drone, and more. However, it is also coming to realize the adverse impact of loneliness in adults and seniors. It is making advances through technology and modern-day insights to address this public health need that is reaching crisis levels with people- and senior-friendly emotional well-being products and services.
Companion care services can be an option for seniors and older adults. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chosen Family Home Care is a caring provider of home care services throughout the region. Our caregivers can not only provide support to prevent senior loneliness and isolation, but we can also provide hands on support with activities of daily living. Plus, Chosen Family Home Care has taken extensive measures due to the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that you or a loved one can be safe. Contact Chosen Family Home Care today for direct care that can help seniors remain active and support well-being mentally and emotionally.
Innovative technologies that fight loneliness and social isolation in seniors
Below, we discuss five innovations in development to overcome the struggle against loneliness or isolation in older adults.
The idea of coexisting with robots may have been scary or dystopian previously. In the face of the pandemic and the coming social isolation, people may have begun to rethink the role of robotics and consider how they could reduce loneliness in seniors, along with an array of other activities.
Intuition Robotics is one such company making the foray into addressing such issues. This Israeli startup uses artificial intelligence which designs tailored companion technologies for the elderly. They ambitiously have created ElliQ, a digital home companion for older adults that can respond to questions, make appointments, initiate calls,monitor and analyze the user’s environment, and provide entertainment and emotional enrichment activities. Think of it like an Alexa with advanced capabilities.
PARO is another interesting example. It’s a therapeutic robot developed by the Japanese company AIST. PARO is an FDA-approved biofeedback device which takes the shape of a baby seal. Frequently, it is used for patients with dementia-related symptoms. Sensors help enable the robot to perceive the user’s environment. It knows when it is being petted and recognizes voices and words.
With continued advances in AI, you can expect that personal robots will become increasingly sophisticated. Plus, they will develop personalized–adopting traits and habits to meet the unique needs and personality of their user.
Easy to use and accessible devices
Even those less attuned to technology, including many seniors, can also benefit from anti-loneliness technology. KOMP is a platform that seniors’ children and grandchildren can utilize. It allows them to share photos, make video calls, or send messages. The senior recipient needs to only use one button on the other end to keep things as easy as possible. The company that created the product, No Isolation, is on track to see sales up 20 times over last year. The surge started in March and April, which coincided with stay at home orders.
Improved accessibility to transportation
The Model T by Ford has been around for over 100 years. That being said, inaccessibility to transportation is a major barrier for many seniors. Many older adults or disabled individuals may not have the ability to drive or get around. Insurance companies and health systems are finding innovative solutions to overcome this. However, these are only focused on the medical component of improving healthcare and health outcomes.
Equally important is the focus on how transportation can improve socialization. Of course, ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber have been a major force in improving accessibility across communities. These services are not only convenient but generally affordable too. By getting seniors and older adults out into the community more, these on-demand rides can help reduce social isolation and increase quality of life. In a majority of US markets, both Lyft and Uber offer wheelchair accessible rides. These can be requested right through their own phone apps. Relatively easy to navigate, these are a major help to those with accessibility needs and seniors.
Even some state programs have recognized how important non-medical transportation is to promoting quality of life. For example, Pennsylvania’s Medicaid waiver programs promote and even pay for many non-medical transportation options as a way to support independence at home. A look at this and the full scope of services of the PA medicaid waiver can be found in detail here.
Emotional Support Gone Virtual
Finding constructive and creative virtual communities can be tough. However, creative and forward-thinking innovations are opening new possibilities.
7Chairs is one such provider. They offer long-term emotional support groups facilitated by professionals such as clinical social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional counselors through text and video based options. They are aimed at people confronting chronic and acute illnesses, loneliness, grief, anxiety, depression, and additional mental and emotional health conditions.
Demand for connections such as these are on the rise in the midst of the pandemic. QuarantineChat is a new service that was started as a free option to connect people who don’t know each other through phone calls. The app has options for 25 languages, and has thousands of users from 183 different countries. As the viral outbreak and resulting quarantines inspire more people to see the value in virtual communities, these new, and intuitive forms of gathering and support will certainly become more mainstream.
Alcove is a platform that acts as a virtual reality (VR) living room. Focusing on family connections, it was curated by the AARP Innovation Labs to bring international and intergenerational families together to connect by playing games, creating memories, and watching videos.
Seniors combating loneliness may also find value in Rendever. This VR platform relies on neuroscience to offer activities for cognitive stimulation. For example, it helps users remember and recreate powerful memories and nostalgia, while fostering socialization and therapy as well.
Investments in augmented reality and virtual reality are expected to increase substantially over the coming years. As a result, these platforms and technologies will begin playing more of a mainstream role in our search for connection and community.
Sometimes, when people express loneliness, they may mean that they don’t feel they have someone that they can confide in. This is apparently expressed by one in four Americans. Chatbots are one innovation that have seen an explosion in usage during the pandemic. They provide a plethora of increasingly intelligent ways to provide a much-needed partner in conversation.
Woebot is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based chatbot app developed by a Stanford University research psychologist. It monitors and analyzes a users’ moods during chats. Plus, the app can help users learn about themselves. The ultimate goal of the app is to enable users to take charge of their mental and emotional well-being.
Replika is another innovative technology in the space. It enables its users to create a personal digital companion, which can then learn and adapt to the user through text conversations. Artificial intelligence based algorithms and neural networks allow the technological companion to hold empathetic and expressive conversations.
More companies continue to invest in chatbot technology for different functions such as customer service. With these investments, the technology will continue to evolve and innovate to improve their ability to have meaningful conversations and dialogue with their users.
Continued Demand for Innovative Solutions
It’s clear that there is significant demand for technology that supports mental and emotional well-being for adults of all ages. The growth of apps that promote mindfulness and meditation, including Headspace and Calm, have exploded in popularity over the past few years and is a testament to this demand.
As bad as the pandemic has been, there has at least been a renewed focus on addressing loneliness and senior social isolation. With that attention, existing technologies will continue to become more commonplace and less taboo, and new innovations will surely result in smarter and better platforms to address these needs.
Products that can lessen loneliness now and in a post-COVID-19 reality will be the ones that foster easy to use, personalized, and tailored experiences for seniors. They may lean on technologies like artificial intelligence, biofeedback, and virtual reality to help us fight back against the feelings that too many seniors and adults of all ages unfortunately experience, which is the pandemic of loneliness.
Technology can be one level of support, and home care is another option as well. Chosen Family Home Care can be the compassionate provider of caregivers and home care to help you or your loved one age in place and with dignity right here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition to helping out seniors with activities of daily living, errands, and housekeeping, we can provide a crucial level of companionship and emotional support for seniors regardless of their circumstances.