The technology of ageing

Posted on November 18, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Senior couple using laptop

Sometimes people who are post-50 complain about the effects of technology on society and on occasion they have a valid point. My father frequently used to lecture us on how television had killed the art of conversation, and I dread to think what his pronouncements would have been had he lived to see just what the smartphone has done to human communication. But there are a number of ways in which technology is making the ageing process easier for us, and that’s something to feel positive about.

Even a decade ago we didn’t have all the mobile devices, gadgets and the apps we have today, and while some of them may seem quite irrelevant to older members of the population, there are a significant number that we can use to improve our lifestyles. Some even compensate for the natural wear and tear the body and senses go through. There are apps to measure fitness levels and track calorie intake among other things, as well as wearable gadgets, such as Fitbit.

The future of hi-tech ageing

I recently noticed that Huff Post 50 takes a keen interest in this topic and has created a buried time capsule of its predictions for the future impact of technology on the way we age. Indeed, when you consider the choices its editors have made, you can see the amazing potential technology has to enhance our lives in a meaningful way, rather than being something of a social pariah.

Talking street signs

Not only would this development greatly aid the blind, it would help those of us with declining vision. I certainly value crossings where there is an audible signal that it is OK to cross as well as the visuals of the little walking man. Huff Post suggests that street signs should announce themselves via our Bluetooth device as we approach. I’m still trying to understand Bluetooth, but no doubt I’ll have figured it out by the time talking street signs arrive.

Skype your doctor

Telemedicine is already doing well and is an absolute boon to those living in remote areas. It is predicted that this trend will continue and when you need to consult your GP, you will be able to have an initial consultation via Skype. Perfect. Skype costs nothing to use and it saves time waiting for an emergency appointment.

Patient monitoring and one-stop online records

This is a very interesting one for the many people who have a chronic condition. Diabetics can already send glucose levels to their doctor via computer, so why not expand this to develop at-home monitors for weight, blood pressure, heart and lung functions. The results are sent online and the physician can judge whether or not you need to adjust your medication or come in for a consultation.
Similarly, a system that stores all an individual’s medical records in one place would streamline health service delivery. If a consultant can call up a person’s records and immediately see who else has treated them and the outcomes, it surely must make life easier for them, and enable faster diagnosis and treatment.

We are all aware that there are privacy concerns about medical records, but I remember from my time working in the NHS that communication, or lack of it, between different specialist departments was a topic that frequently came up in staff discussion about service problems and solutions.

Care-giving robots

Robots in our everyday lives are still some way off, but one Japanese inventor has designed a Robot Teddy Bear that performs carer tasks, such as lifting a person out of bed, helping them stand or get into a wheelchair. While this may seem to lack the personal touch, I can well imagine that there are care givers who would welcome some mechanical help with these routine tasks that are often, literally, back breaking.

More apps for ageing

There will undoubtedly be more apps, and they’ll all have something to do with health. Apps to remind you when to take your tablets, a personal physio app that takes you through your daily recovery routine and there is already an app in the pipeline that helps people manage panic attacks by playing a game.

Personally, I’d like a gadget that gives me a daily update along these lines: “Today your heart and lung function is that of a 25-year old, your other organs feel about 21, and your memory function is reliving its youth.” Well, something to that effect, but I suspect it will be a while before my hi-tech wish comes true.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.