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IOM’s "Fostering Independence and Healthy Aging Through Technology" conference

December 19, 2012
by Pamela Tabar, Associate Editor
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Technology doesn’t have to be from outer space to be exciting, as long as the long-term care industry can solve the adoption barriers and put it to use in seniors’ own homes and nursing communities, noted national leaders who gathered at today’s Public Workshop on Fostering Independence and Healthy Aging through Technology in Washington, D.C.

The workshop, hosted by the Institute of Medicine–National Research Council Forum on Aging, Disability, and Independence, focused on the use of technology to overcome obstacles to independence for seniors and younger people with mobility challenges.

LeadingAge’s President and CEO Larry Minnix and LeadingAge's Center for Aging Services Technology’s (CAST) executive vice president Majd Alwan both presented during the morning sessions, highlighting their work to uncover the barriers to the adoption of existing assistance technology.

CAST has collected 18 case studies on providers who have developed technology-enabled care models, including projects from private senior living communities, continuing-care retirement communities and partnerships between hospitals and long-term care providers. Some of the strongest potential is in technologies for remote patient monitoring and home telehealth, including video chats, Alwan noted.

Although ease of use is still an issue for some technology-shy seniors, the much bigger barrier to implementing technology across the care continuum is interoperability—especially when adding the nirvana of two-way data exchange with a longitudinal electronic medical record (EMR).

“In our opinion, the biggest barrier to the adoption of these technologies is actually the absence of business models that have the alignment of incentives that are conducive for the adoption of these types of technologies,” Alwan said.

The highlight of their presentation was the debut of a new YouTube video depicting how today’s technology can facilitate senior independence, coordinate the care chain and alert caregivers to possible health or safety risks.

The “High-Tech Aging: Improving Lives Today” video follows “Alma,” an 83-year-old senior who’s aging at home, as she experiences a stroke and begins her journey through the care chain—emergency room, acute care, rehabilitation facility and finally back home with care from a home-health agency. At each stage, technology helps keep all her caregivers on the same page and keeps Alma from falling through the care management cracks upon her return home. In the scenario, a fully accessible EMR, room monitors, bed sensors, telehealth, video chats with her physician and software for drug interaction alerts and medication management all play a role in assisting Alma, her family members and her professional care providers.

The video emphasizes that technology assists not only in providing better care, but also in allowing seniors to retain independence at home instead of transitioning to skilled nursing, Alwan explained.

No one served as a better example of technology-assisted independence than Steve Saling, an architect who helped design his own independence technology to overcome advanced paralysis due to ALS disease. Saling delivered his audiovisual presentation by using a specially designed computer interface to manipulate a computer using slight head or eye movements.

Saling told attendees how his journey toward independence began when he met Barry Berman, CEO of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, who had decided to build the country’s first skilled-service home designed for residents with ALS, Multiple Sclerosis and other mobility-debilitating illnesses. Saling contributed his architectural design experience to the project, helping to design the home environment and also the features of PEAK, the technology system that automates the entire living environment.

The result became the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, Mass., the nation’s first assisted living community outfitted with technology to allow residents with ALS and MS to live independently.

“My home is fully automated, so once I am helped into my wheelchair every morning, I am independent and able to move freely until I go to bed late that night. I have full control of my life, doors and thermostat. If it is electrical, I can control it. Even the elevators are fully automated so that I can call the elevator and select the floor from my computer,” Saling said. “I may be paralyzed, but I am free.”

The second fully automated ALS residence is scheduled to open in New Orleans in early 2013, with more sites in the planning stages, he added.

“My doctors told me to get my affairs in order,” Saling said, recalling his initial ALS diagnosis. “Instead, I have founded the ALS residence initiative with the mission to inspire replication across the country. We don't have to wait for the future to use tech knowledge that provides freedom and independence. The future is now.”

To learn more about creative environments for senior living, join us in New Orleans for Long-term Living's Environments for Aging conference, April 6-9, 2013.

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