Aging Committee Examines Technologies That Can Improve Quality of Life and Independence for Seniors and Those with Disabilities
Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement
Click HERE to read Senator Casey’s opening statement
Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, held a hearing today titled, “Aging and Disability in the 21st Century: How Technology Can Help Maintain Health and Quality of Life.”
“With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and one out of five Americans set to join this group by 2035, we are in the midst of a major demographic shift. As the population is aging, the need for care and support is increasing,” said Senator Collins. “Advances in technology are working to bridge the ‘care gap,’ improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors.”
“Assistive technology provides an opportunity for millions of individuals to live independently, improving the lives of older Americans and people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey. “This is why I am working to introduce two bills to increase access to assistive technology and information about alternative communication devices to those who need it so they can be full participants in every aspect of their lives.”
The hearing explored how recent advances in technology, specifically assistive technology, can help older adults and people with disabilities age in place, assist caregivers, and improve health care status and quality of life. At the hearing, representatives from local Assistive Technology offices brought technologies to display and demonstrate. Witnesses discussed an array of technology including:
- Smart home remote monitoring devices;
- Wearables that monitor vital signs, sleep, and physical activity;
- Platforms that increase connectivity to reduce social isolation and loneliness;
- Technology to reduce falls;
- Personal emergency-response systems; and
- Medication-management technologies
Witnesses at today’s hearing included:
Joseph Coughlin, Ph.D., Director at MIT AgeLab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Coughlin discussed the challenges and promises of technology-enabled innovation to improve the lives of older people and their families. He highlighted the importance of designing technology with the user in mind to increase the likelihood that devices are useful and to reduce stigma. He discussed the need to ensure that these technologies are affordable, accessible to people in rural areas, and made available widely as part of a new longevity economy that supports aging.
Cara McCarty, the Curatorial Director at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, New York. Ms. McCarty curated the “Access + Ability” exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, which featured more than 70 works, from adaptive clothing and eating implements that assist with daily routines to apps and smart technologies that aid in social interactions and navigating the environment. The exhibit featured a device developed at the University of Maine, the Afari, which is a three-wheeled, aesthetically designed walker to allow users to walk in locations a traditional walker is incapable of, like a hiking trail or snowshoeing path. At the hearing, Ms. McCarty gave a holistic overview of existing technologies that help people with disability and older adults live more independently, with a focus on how design can make all the difference.
Brenda Gallant, RN, the Executive Director of the Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in Augusta, Maine. Ms. Gallant discussed how assistive technologies have helped older adults and those with disabilities to remain in their own homes rather than a nursing home or other type of institution. The Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program collaborates with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in administering the Homeward Bound Program, sponsored by Maine’s Money Follows the Person Program. Homeward Bound is a voluntary program that provides participants the tools and technology necessary to move out of a nursing home or other institutionalized setting to a home, apartment, or community-based setting.
Robert (Bob) Mecca, the Executive Director of Life and Independence for Today (LIFT) in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. Mr. Mecca is a wheelchair user and he uses adaptive technology like hand controls to drive his vehicle and uses a variety of low-tech devices in his daily living such as transfer boards and arm reachers. Mr. Mecca has worked at LIFT, a center for independent living, in multiple capacities since 1989. LIFT serves multiple counties in north central Pennsylvania. Mr. Mecca spoke about his work throughout rural Pennsylvania, providing clients with assistive technology services.
Click HERE to read the witnesses’ testimonies.