As smart technology becomes more commonplace in everyday life, the lives of seniors in need of care are changing with it. Presently, home sensing systems, smart cars and mobile devices are changing the way seniors live, get around and communicate, and now, the smart technology revolution is spreading to entire cities.
For aging populations struggling with the embrace of technology, the idea of an entire city operating on gadgets plugged into the internet of things (IoT) may seem a bit overwhelming. This transition in urban design, however, promises to benefit seniors in ways that are only beginning to come clear.
The need for caregivers and personalized healthcare increases each day along with percentage of the population over the age of 65. With a caregiver shortage, the role of technology in allowing medical professionals to do more with less, and supporting seniors in self-care efforts is something you hear a lot about in the media.
To create an information and communications infrastructure capable of supporting the needs of both the elderly and caregiver populations, cities and technology companies are teaming up to create environments that are aware of the specific needs of aging populations and are capable of driving improvements in care and social and community services.
New Design for Public Spaces
So what does an age friendly city look like? The answer is dependent on the location.
As retirement living communities have attempted to revamp their image to become more enticing for seniors to move to by choice, there has been a rethinking of what public spaces in those areas should look like. For example, in cities where seniors tend to live in apartment buildings rather than homes, public wayfinding technology in common areas can help those suffering from dementia to navigate larger buildings.
Another feature that can be applied to residential areas is allowing the customization of a front door that will allow those suffering from dementia to easily identify their homes.
Outside of the home, cities are exploring free public transport options for the elderly, more publicly available seating, removal of trip hazards, smoother pavements and improved bus shelters. Crossing the street can be made easier by providing disabled seniors with an app on their phone that allows IoT connected traffic lights to connect with smart devices to see if a person using the crosswalk has that specific app on their phone. If they do, the timing of the light can be adjusted to allow the person more time to get across the street.
This prioritization of making urban living easier for seniors falls in line with a broader movement of older adults moving back into cities they once left behind. Walkability, availability of public resources and amenities and increased opportunities to socialize are all factors driving this trend.
Some cities connect older adults with someone else through apps to combat loneliness, others use sensor technology to check on the health of older adults and provide telehealth check-ins and consults if needed.
World Health Organization’s Age Friendly Cities
WHO is one of the leading organizations when it comes to encouraging the implementation of smart cities. Its goal is to drive initiatives that address important factors for “independence, participation, dignity, care and self-fulfillment” of older adults within urban communities.
The focus is on cities rather than suburban and rural settings due to the fact that larger municipalities have more resources to push age-friendly development and can serve as an example for communities in their region looking to become more adapted for the elderly.
Development could mean newly designed buildings with the elderly in mind, or the development of technology solutions. A good example is an app that uses GPS to monitor the person’s location and inform where the nearest public toilet is or provide air quality readings that can prevent older adults from wandering into areas where smog or pollutants may affect their health.
The WHO’s efforts focus on the following key areas which they believe define a smart city. It should offer:
- Accessible public and private transport
- Opportunities for civic, cultural and educational engagement
- Barrier free spaces (both indoor and outdoor)
- Accessible and useful information for older adults
The barrier free element is important as urban environments often involve a large number of stairs to climb. Those with mobility issues will struggle to get around in these areas, even when escalators are available. Elevators are not realistic or appropriate from a design standpoint in every instance, so cities should look to use things like chair or platform lifts as well as ramps where they can.