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Assisted living is a relatively new concept, and it's become the preferred lifestyle for many seniors who desire independence, but also need a little extra help with their daily living. Older adults in such settings are often up on the latest technology and gadgets, which is why many facilities are looking to include state-of-the-art tech into their programs and procedures. Below, we'll review the roles that technology already is playing in assisted living, and what the future of the industry may look like.

 

The internet's role

The internet is an ever-present part of life for many Americans, seniors included. In fact, recent research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that for the first time ever, half of U.S. adults over the age of 65 use the internet. This is why many assisted living facilities offer internet access for residents, and some even provide classes to help get older adults up to speed on how to surf the web.

Seniors use the internet for various reasons. According to the study, email is perhaps the most common tool older adults access, with 86 percent of those 65 and older signing on to an email server, and around 48 percent doing so "on a typical day."

The web is also useful for keeping in touch with friends and family. Social media use among seniors rose from 22 percent in April 2009 to 42 percent in May of the following year, according to a separate Pew study. Older adults can use sites like Facebook and Twitter or services like Skype and Gmail to keep in touch with friends and family near and far.

 

Mobility and health

More and more people are using their mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to access the web. While these devices can be used for many of the same reasons listed above, they also offer something that could be a boon to seniors - mobile health technology.

There are applications that can be loaded onto mobile devices that help develop exercise programs and track calorie intake, and they can also be used to keep in touch with medical professionals if need be.

Unfortunately, because such technologies are relatively new, many still need tweaks to be accessible to seniors. For example, a recent study from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) examined three of the leading iPhone applications that help those living with diabetes monitor their blood glucose levels. They found that there were several issues with the apps, such as small, hard-to-read print and  confusing functions that made them inaccessible for seniors.

Researchers hope that their studies will encourage app developers to keep seniors in mind as they design new mobile health programs.

 

What the future may hold

Technology shows no sign of slowing, and there has been much speculation about what roles new developments could play in assisted living. Robotic technology has been much discussed. In recent years, scientists and engineers have developed new "bots" that could help seniors.

The question, however, is whether or not seniors will be interested in such technologies. HFES conducted a separate survey, asking adults between the ages of 65 and 93 how they would feel about robotic assistance. They were shown videos of various technologies that could help with everything from making phone calls to personal grooming.

"Our results indicated that the older adults were generally open to robot assistance in the home, but they preferred it for some daily living tasks and not others," said Cory-Ann Smarr, who led the study. More specifically, participants were open to the idea of robotic assistance for housekeeping chores, such as laundry, as well as some health-related tasks, such as medication management. However, they preferred traditional, human-based assisted living for more personal tasks, such as dressing, eating and bathing.