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New White House report recommends ways to help older people remain independent

Written by Diane Archer

A March 2016 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, PCAST, recommends ways to help older adults remain independent, improving their ability to live in their homes and their communities longer. PCAST focuses on technologies and policies that foster independence, purpose, and engagement for older Americans. The report takes into account the need for social connectivity and physical and emotional well-being.

The population is aging. In 2014, 46 million Americans were over 65, some 15 percent of the population. People are living longer. They are living with fewer functional limitations as they age. More than four in ten older adults report excellent or very good health status. And, one study found that almost nine in ten would like to remain in their homes as long as possible. While older adults are in better health than ever before, two out of three have multiple chronic conditions. Support services can be invaluable to them, yet many are unaffordable.

PCAST looks at four changes many people experience as they age with the aim of recommending support services to make it easier for older adults to age in place: hearing loss, increasing social isolation, physical change and cognitive change. A report issued in March 2015 focuses on hearing loss. This report focuses on the other three changes and emphasizes their interrelationship. For example, if a person is unable to leave home, the person is more likely to be socially isolated, and the person’s social isolation can affect her mental health.

PCAST offers 12 ways to promote independence and aging in place for older adults through technology. Here are five of the recommendations:

  1. Federal policy that promotes affordable internet access and training for older adults. Broadband access is key for social connectivity. It can help older adults be aware of local resources, volunteer opportunities and jobs. Broadband access also allows for telehealth and easy communication with caregivers.
  2. Sensors that monitor behaviors and activities of older adults also could add tremendous value, allowing caregivers to know whether an older person is safe at home. Of course, privacy and security issues need to be fully understood.
  3. The federal government should encourage banks and other financial institutions to improve ways to monitor and protect older adults from financial scams. PCAST states that “Financial exploitation of older adults is massively underreported.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers tips for people to protect themselves and the people they love.
  4. Federal agencies should promote the setting of minimum design standards for homes and products, which recognize people’s declining mobility as they age. Housing should have accommodations that make it easier for people to remain in their homes even if they have difficulty moving around. New technologies should be used to design and create lighter, more durable and more comfortable wheelchairs. And, packaging of foods and medical supplies should be designed so that older adults do not have to struggle to open them.
  5. Federal government needs to explore changes to its Medicare and Medicaid coverage policies that allow people to receive services at home, in particular telemedicine services.

PCAST notes that there is no evidence that digital games of any sort promote memory or cognitive well-being. And, the federal government should be protecting older adults from spending money on these products.

Here’s more from Just Care:




  • …hear hear on #4.

    I swear that packaging designers have a malicious bent to make those of who have arthritis struggle even opening a bag of crisps let alone a jar or bottle.

    A lot of time the plastic used in food packaging just stretches without opening as it should. Bags such as for crisps and in cereal boxes, have way too much glue in the top seam . Then there’s those ridiculous inner seals on bottles and tubs. You pull the tab they put on and it either comes off or the seal tears/shreds. On “tamper proof” wraps that cover a cap or lid, there needs to be a tear tab that actually works (and please, no second inner seal under the cap/lid). By far, the worst is shrink/stretch wrap. Fortunately where I shop there is a generous fresh meats and fish department where they still use old fashioned butcher paper instead of having to deal with pre cling wrapped styro trays. Unfortunately, many of the big volume discount markets don’t offer this service.

    Another bane are blister packs. which seem to be used for so many products these days. Not only are they wasteful, but also impossible to open without something like a garden shear because of all the glue used and the thickness of the plastic. Whatever happened to the old pasteboard box with a picture of the product on it?

    Finally, by far the worst of all are medications, both OTC and prescription. Those child and tamper proof caps should also be called “Arthritic Proof” as well. Nothing is worse than being in pain and having to go through more trying to open the bottle of medication that is supposed to relieve it. At least for prescriptions there needs to be a design that is easier to open. Crikey, most of these bottles are actually easier for kids to open than for me. With all the tech today it should be simple to create some sort of “lock cap” which uses a special “key” like device that fits over the cap and which one can keep with him or herself on a key ring. Without it, the bottle cannot be opened.

    Also prescription safety can be practised by the individual as well. I never keep my prescription or OTC meds in the bathroom cabinet where others can get to them, they stay in a safe place in my room.

  • I have spent the last 18 years caring for my mother (Alzheimer’s), my father (legally blind), and my mother-in-law (just old, died two weeks ago at 99.) Based on my experience and what I see with my mother-in-law’s friends, I do not recommend that people “age in place.” I think the best place for the elderly (including my husband and myself–we are 66) is the type of living situation where you have your own apartment, and there is assisted living care there if necessary, as well as nursing home care on site, so the healthy spouse can just walk over and spend all the time they want. And you should move before you are 75. My mother-in-law downsized when she was 85. Unfortunately, by the time she was 98, she did not know where she was–her only frame of reference was the house she had lived in from the time she was 43 until she was 85. She wanted to die at home, which was a source of extreme stress for the family, or at least those of us who were involved in her care. I have started looking at this type of housing and there are many, many opportunities for social activities, as well as meals provided if necessary. Yes, it is pricy, but if I can avoid causing my son the stress my mother-in-law caused us, I will. Aging in place is a joke.

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