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New technology should serve the elderly. (Guest Editorial).

People age 65 and over now comprise a greater share of the world's population than ever before, and this proportion will increase during the 21st century. The United States, as well as most countries around the world, is ill-prepared to deal with this dramatic demographic change and the impact that it will have on social, political, and economic structures.

Now is the time to start planning how technology can respond to the needs of an aging society and aging services. Our country has spent billions of dollars to help people live longer. Now is the time to take advantage of the power and potential of technology to help seniors maintain their quality of life and to help facilities provide higher quality service with lower staffing demands.

Ironically, although technologic advances have helped people live longer, there has been only a limited amount of work and research on developing products and services that can help people maintain their independence for as long as possible. This need is the rationale behind a recent major initiative by the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA).

AAHSA's newly created Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) brings together leaders from university research labs; technology, health, and consumer product companies; long-term care facilities and organizations; and government agencies. With their advice and guidance, CAST will undertake initiatives in three areas:

* Enabling technologies. CAST will explore, ways that older adults can be assisted in doing more for themselves. These technologies help older adults to continue living in their own homes or in independent facilities for as long as possible.

* Automation. Technology applications for data entry need to replace "pencil pushing" to help reduce the chances for documentation error, as well as to make the caregiver's job more interesting and rewarding.

* Connection. Using technology helps older adults stay in contact with family and friends. These connections are important to seniors not only in maintaining relationships, but in pursuing educational opportunities and personal growth.

Beyond these specific areas, CAST has identified a wide range of challenges and opportunities. For example, while there is a great deal of technologic research taking place in the healthcare field, most of it is geared toward acute care, with a minimum focus on aging services. Major universities have projects under way and others are becoming interested in the issue, but access to funding remains difficult. A limited number of technology or consumer product companies have made major commitments to support the field, but much of the research and development is taking place without input from aging-services providers.

For example, "smart care" or "smart house" facilities have been developed as fully functional operations in Japan, Great Britain, and the United States, but there has been little sharing of knowledge to help foster their development. Discussions of technology in the aging-services field often center on software development and Internet access for seniors, but not the potential benefits and solutions they might offer to enhance older people's independence, lifestyles, and functional abilities.

CAST is therefore drawing upon experts from corporations, research universities, the public-policy community, and aging-services providers to answer the following pivotal questions:

* Will consumers turn to technologic solutions to help maintain independent lifestyles?

* How can we, as providers, balance "tech" and "touch"?

* What are the privacy and security implications of using sensor and monitoring equipment in resident care?

* Who will pay for the technology in aging services?

* What changes in public policy need to be made to support the development and application of new technology solutions?

* How will professionals in the aging-services field learn about the latest technologic developments and apply them to their facilities and services?

* How can we foster more financial support for research and development in aging-services technologies?

* How might we identify the potential market for these technologies?

The time has come, in short, to reconcile the worlds of technology and aging services. This will improve the quality of resident care and reduce costs.

Russell Bodoff is vice-president of technology and business development for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. For more information about the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), call (202) 508-9463 or e-mail rbodoff@aahsa.org. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to bodoff0103@nursinghomesmagazine.com.
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Author:Bodoff, Russell
Publication:Nursing Homes
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:706
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