Industry News

Research and technology support older drivers

The world is growing grayer. By 2050, the global population of those 80 years and older is expected to triple; one-third of the population will be older than 65 years of age. That brings a common challenge for all countries: how do we support the large number of older drivers who experience physical and mental changes as part of the aging process?

Glad you asked

Scientists in Germany believe they may have the answer. A study published on the Behavioral Neurology website poses an intriguing idea—training the brains of seniors will increase their skill in driving safely. That got our attention, which is why we’re sharing this with you!

Identifying impaired drivers

The researchers define driving as a complex task that requires visual, motor and cognitive skills—all factors that undergo change in older adults, including those in good health. But these changes will also vary from one individual to another. Because of this, the study’s authors stressed the importance of establishing a method for identifying older drivers, who have impairments that affect their driving ability, in order to implement training measures.

The authors also identified three areas of evaluation: functions needed in driving, driving ability in real traffic, and behavior in a driving simulator.

Supporting the older driver

According to the German researchers, the key to countering the “functional deficits” of older drivers lies in three areas: traffic environment, car environment and individual drivers.

They suggested complex locations, like intersections, should be structured as clearly as possible, with obvious signage and no distractions, such as advertisements. In-vehicle assistance, including GPS, aid older drivers by helping them focus on traffic by reducing their mental workload. They note that other driver assistive devices, currently in the works, may also prove useful.

According to an article, “The Future of Driving,” on the CNN website, automakers and the federal government are developing technology that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other about traffic, weather and road conditions. “More urgently, they can broadcast their speed and direction and warn each other about potential safety hazards, such as when a nearby vehicle is drifting into your lane,” Brandon Griggs wrote.

The director of Nissan’s research center, Marteen Sierhuis, is quoted in the same article. “If I can get information from the car next to me that they’re going to turn right, that would be great,” explained Sierhuis. He imagines a day when information about almost all vehicles is stored in the cloud and accessible by all.

A testing protocol

The study’s authors recommend a specific sequence for measuring an older person’s driving ability when it is questioned by a family member, doctor or the individual themselves.

  • Vision testing for accuracy, periphery, and night vision.
  • Testing of driving-related cognitive skills as they relate to situation awareness, visual search and multitasking.

And if an individual does not pass the first two tests, they recommend a third measurement:

  • Observing the driver in real traffic with complex situations.

If the driving test raises a red flag as to the driver’s abilities, driving training should be used. Researchers point out that the greatest challenges to older drivers are situations that are unexpected (the car in front brakes suddenly) or complex (navigating a roundabout). They advocate using simulator training of complex driving situations or computer-based training of traffic-relative cognitive functions. These tools have proven successful in improving driving skills and reducing traffic accidents in older adult drivers.

Driving simulators can be programmed so that complex driving situations can be repeated until the driver is trained to react skillfully. While the cognitive tests of drivers trained on a simulator and those trained using a computer program showed improvement across the board, that was not the case with a real driving test. In that situation, those trained on the simulator excelled, probably because of that tool’s ability to create a real-life traffic experience.

Extending the simulator’s reach

Unfortunately, as the authors point out, simulators are not commonly used in driver training due to their expense. Most simulators are used by researcher to study driver behavior. But companies like Carnetsoft, based in The Netherlands, are working to make the simulator more affordable in an effort to help integrate them into driver training courses.

Meantime, due to the rare accessibility of simulators, the researchers recommend future studies to compare short-term and long-term outcomes of older adults who are trained by simulator and computer. In other words, the fact that simulators are superior in immediate driver improvement does not necessarily mean they will win out in the long haul.

All of this is good news because it shows there is significant effort and study to help older adults improve their driving skills, one of many factors important to remaining independent longer.

Over-the-counter hearing aids are coming!

Hearing loss is getting a lot of attention from the federal government, researchers and manufacturers. As Americans are living longer, age-related health challenges like hearing loss can become barriers to independence and quality of life.

The cost of hearing

The Journal of the American Medical Association website reports that hearing loss affects 40 percent of people over the age of 60, more than 60 percent of those over 70, and nearly 80 percent of people over 80 years of age. That is a whopping 30 million people who are affected. No wonder hearing loss is being addressed by so many entities.

Hearing loss is associated with social isolation, depression, dementia, falls, and a decline in cognitive and physical functioning. Given this association, it is shocking to learn that only 20 percent of those with hearing loss use a hearing aid, according to an article on nextavenue.org.

The low treatment rate is understandable when you consider the fact that the average pair of hearing aids costs $4,700, has a life expectancy of three to five years, and isn’t covered by Medicare.

Health care for hearing loss

In October 2015, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology acknowledged the importance of developing low cost, over-the-counter hearing devices. In June 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released its report, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability. The report is the work of a committee of experts tasked by the National Academies with defining the obstacles to accessing treatment for hearing loss and making recommendations for improvement.

The report states, “…the committee recommends key institutional, technological and regulatory changes that would enable consumers to find and fully use the appropriate, affordable, and high-quality services, technologies, and supports they need.”

The report also strongly argues that hearing loss can no longer be viewed as an individual concern. “There is a growing recognition that hearing loss is a significant public health concern that can be addressed by actions at multiple levels.”

Proposed legislation

Nearly 98 percent of the U.S. hearing aid market is controlled by six companies, resulting in high prices. To combat this lopsided market, last March Senators Chuck Grassley and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill supporting the sale of over-the-counter hearing devices. Senator Grassley is quoted in the nextavenue.org article as saying the goal is to “increase competition, lower costs and expand access to devices for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.”

Affordable and accessible treatment options: That is good to hear!

Virtual Reality technology is enhancing the lives of older adults

Virtual reality, or VR, is a three-dimensional realistic environment. It is controlled and experienced through the body movements of the user, who wears special headgear. While the technology seems out of this world, its applications for older adults are very down to earth.

A new world of possibilities

According to an article on nextavenue.org, VR is being used to ease anxiety and improve brain function of those with dementia and control pain in hospital patients. One person who adamantly believes VR can change lives is Dennis Lally, cofounder of Rendever, a company that specializes in creating VR for older adults. It offers subscription-based VR services to individuals and senior care facilities whose residents are unable to explore the outside world due to mental or physical limitations. With VR, Rendever brings the world to them.

“We’re aggregating tons of wonderful content, like beach scenes,” Lally told NextAvenue. “They can go to a Maui beach and watch the waves come in for 30 minutes or swim with a whale in the ocean. They could sit in the front row of a concert that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. We also provide educational stuff, like historical tours or architectural exhibits.”

Bringing families closer

Rendever can also custom create a VR experience using photos of an event and creating a VR experience that can be enjoyed by family members who were not able to attend. Using the technology close to home, Lally plans to create a VR version of his wedding in Greece so his grandmother can experience the special event as though she had attended it in person.

The mission of Lally and his cofounder, Reed Hayes, is to use VR to reduce or eliminate the isolation and depression that is experienced by many older adults.

During Rendever’s initial launch last year, it partnered with a handful of elder care facilities, offering their residents a menu of VR experiences. Family members or staff used a tablet to help residents use the technology.

An article on BostonInno.co reported that Rendever launched simulation testing last year to help doctors diagnose medical conditions in elderly patients by having them perform tasks in a virtual world. The company is also developing a VR program for therapeutic use with patients suffering from anxiety.

VR as a pain relief alternative

Rendever is not alone in using VR to improve quality of life. The University of Wisconsin uses a VR game, SnowWorld, to reduce pain in burn patients of all ages. The game distracts patients from their pain by taking them through an ice canyon, where they throw snow balls at one another.

A study reported on the National Institute of Health website sought to test the theory that VR could reduce chronic pain in 30 patients between the ages of 35 and 79. Participants were asked to rate their pain prior to, during, and after a five-minute VR session. The findings were significant. Pain was reduced 33 percent from pre-VR to post-VR session and a whopping 60 percent from pre-VR to during VR session.

We live in a high-tech world that runs the risk of distancing people from one another. It is heartening to know that virtual reality is uniting families, easing pain, and helping older adults live their best life.

2017 Technology Show Introduces Innovative Products for Seniors

Every January, a Las Vegas exhibition called CES showcases leading-edge consumer electronic products, attracting people from around the world. The fact that the 2017 show was attended by 175,000 tech fans proves it is, indeed, a massively popular event.

This is the place where innovative technology products are often introduced or get a major leg-up on popularity. That’s because journalists from just about every news source—from traditional outlets like The Wall Street Journal to digital sources like Salon.com—write about their favorite tech product from the show. That’s how Meth-Wick staff learned about exciting technology that will enhance the lives of our current and future residents. And we couldn’t wait to share it!

Senior-focused technology

Laurie Olov of Aging in Place Technology Watch did a great job of recapping the show’s best products for older adults. Here is an edited excerpt of an article she recently wrote for the company’s website.

  • Floodlight Cam by Ring. This offering has potential for older adults living alone. And it is also a reason by itself to obtain a smartphone. “The Floodlight Cam is a motion-activated security camera with built-in LED floodlights, a 270-degree field-of-view, facial recognition, a 110-decibel siren alarm, two-way audio, and is infrared for night vision. With the Ring app, homeowners can manually flash the floodlights, sound the alarm, and zoom or pan to focus. Users can set customizable motion zones and a schedule for the lights to turn on and off automatically.”
  • Outdoor Camera by Blink. This security camera does not require a smartphone app that senior might not have. This is an outdoor camera, the Blink XT, comes with weather-proofing, 1080p video, and a night vision sensor. Blink is releasing a whole host of upgrades and gear to complement its camera system. Blink’s Sync Module, connects to your WiFi and serves as the central hub for all the small wireless cameras, has an upgraded version with 4G Cellular support and battery backup so your system remains up and accessible even when WiFi is down and there’s no power. Blink is also releasing new entry sensors to monitor doors and windows, a new water sensor to notify you of any unexpected leaks, a 105dB siren that can be manually or automatically triggered via motion sensor, and a keypad to arm and disarm Blink without resorting to the app.
  • Intelligent Electric Vehicle by WHIIL. This is a wheelchair using all the latest in battery technology, wheels, and more. In addition, it is connected to a phone that provides all sorts of information for understanding how the vehicle is performing. The Model M, shown at CES, was designed by automotive engineers and drives like a premium electric vehicle, distancing itself from antiquated power wheelchairs and scooters designed decades ago. The wheelchair industry has seen very little innovation in design and technology. The company’s website also provides rental information for those who want to test drive the chair.
  • Item Tracker by Chipolo.  This is somewhat similar to WeTraq and TrackR with an Amazon Alexa interface “Alexa, find my phone.” Chipolo Item Tracker is similar to these other item location offerings that could be used to find things, pets and people, except for one key difference – this tracker (configured on a web interface) emits a loud noise until you locate the item – particularly useful if a family member has some memory loss. The loud sound could be good (in your house) or not-so-good (out in public).
  • Combo wheelchair/suitcase by Modobag. This is a trackable, motorized carry-on bag that the owner can sit on while moving down long concourses in airports. It was discussed (somewhat dismissively) in the media by young folk who could not imagine its utility in a large airport. But it could be an invaluable tool for older adults who must change planes in mega airports, like Chicago and Los Angeles, or have physical limitations and find walking of any duration a challenge.

These are exciting products designed to make seniors’ lives easier and more enjoyable. And the best news of all is that more products are created almost weekly as companies launch to fill the needs of aging Baby Boomers.

Senior fraud steals $36 billion annually: Be aware and be safe

Although anyone can become a victim of financial fraud (deceptive sales and marketing tactics), predators frequently target senior citizens because they are trusting, often live alone and may have reduced cognitive function as part of the aging process. A recent study reveals the problem of senior financial fraud is at an all-time high.

Fraud on the rise

A 2015 study by True Link Financial, a firm that helps clients protect themselves from financial fraud, reported a whopping $36.48 billion is lost annually to elder financial abuse in the U.S. This number is twelve times greater than reported by previous research. True Link tasked its data research team with designing a study to capture the true nature and scope of senior financial abuse in order to provide a complete picture—something dearly lacking in past research.

An under-reported crime

How did past researchers get it so wrong? A study by MetLife in 2011 was based on financial losses reported in published news stories over a three-month period. This seemed to be a very loose attempt to quantify the crime, given the fact that other research indicated 90 percent of senior financial fraud goes unreported. The “New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study” found that for each case of financial fraud reported, 44 cases were unreported. In other words, published newspaper stories are not an accurate reflection of the problem.

Past studies also failed to consider mass-market financial exploitation, including products sold in the anti-aging realm. One example is the fake Botox scam by Arizona thieves that reaped $1.5 million in a year. This type of fraud is especially unsettling because renegade labs create a Botox “home mix,” with no licensing or government supervision, that can include toxic ingredients that cause long-term adverse health problems.

Iowa Scams

Although Iowa older adults are at risk for many types of financial fraud, there are some scams in our state identified by Iowa Fraud Fighters as being the most common financial investment scams. They are:

  • Ponzi or pyramid schemes promising high returns.
  • Promissory notes, used by companies to raise money by selling a portion of its debt to investors.
  • High-yield investment.
  • Oil and gas drilling.
  • Gold and precious metals investments.
  • Free dinner seminars, used to sell shoddy investments.
  • Self-directed IRA.

Grandparents scam

A scam not on the Fraud Fighters’ website is the “Grandparents scam,” which has been reported to Meth-Wick management by a number of residents. With this scam, a caller tells the senior that his/her grandson is in jail (usually for drunk driving) and needs bail money, often for $5,000. If the senior balks, the caller says they can probably get it reduced to $2,500, $1,000 etc. The caller, identified as working at the jail, says a public defender will be in touch. A few minutes later said lawyer calls and is very convincing.

Unfortunately, as you can read on reportscam.com, people are panicked at the idea of their grandson in jail and will wire money, buy gift cards, etc. in an attempt to free him. Most of the reports on this site were made in recent months and are from many states, including Iowa. It is worth taking the time to read these reports to be aware of how the scammers operate in order to protect yourself. Knowledge is power!

Fraud protection tips

The following suggestions are offered by the National Crime Prevention Council to spot a con artist and protect yourself.

  • Never give a caller your credit card number, social security number or bank account number. It’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask for this type of information in order to verify a prize, so that should be a red flag!
  • Beware of phone numbers with “900” area codes. If you call a 900 number to claim a prize, you will be charged for the call.
  • Take your time. Don’t let an aggressive con artist pressure you into making a decision.
  • Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov to stop telemarking calls.
  • Hang up. If the caller makes you suspicious or uncomfortable, end the call. The longer you are on the phone call, the more likely the caller will succeed in talking you into buying something.

It is worth noting that even when following the above guidelines, con artists are not always easy to identify. Many people have been victims of financial fraud, from financial counselors and doctors to teenagers and seniors. The easiest rule of all to remember is this: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Surprising discovery by Texas researchers: Quilting helps seniors improve memory

You’ve probably seen the TV ads touting online puzzles as a way to improve brain function. But a growing body of research, like the study led by Dr. Denise Park and published recently in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, beg to differ.

It isn’t that crossword puzzles and other brain exercises don’t help; it’s that their benefits pale in comparison to active learning.

Dr. Park and her research team compared the change in brain activity of 39 older adults, which were divided into three groups for a 14-week period. Each group performed their assigned activity 15 hours per week:

  • High challenge: learned progressively more demanding skills in photography, quilting or both.
  • Low challenge: group discussions and activities related to travel, cooking, and other leisure subjects.
  • Placebo: Low-demand passive tasks that included listening to music and watching classic movies.

More thinking power

At the end of the study, testing revealed that high-challenge participants had more activity in areas of the brain related to attention and semantic processing (the meaning of words). The group also showed less brain activity for easy tasks and more activity for difficult tasks. This is noteworthy because prior to the study, high-challenge participants used a lot of brainpower to perform both easy and difficult tasks. In comparison, the low challenge group did not show an ability to match brainpower to the ease or complexity of the task after the 14 weeks.

Quilting might be considered a passive experience by those who’ve never tried it. But this task requires measuring and calculating, great exercises for the brain. In addition to learning how to use a camera, the digital photography group also used Photoshop to edit photos. In some cases, participants had to learn to use a computer before learning the graphics program.

While brain puzzles provide limited benefits to short-term memory, demanding activities strengthen entire nerve networks in the brain.

The future of aging

In their conclusion, Dr. Park and her colleagues wrote, “Although there is much more to be learned, we are cautiously optimistic with respect to the possibility that age-related cognitive declines can be slowed or even partially restored if individuals are exposed to sustained, mentally challenging experiences.”

As our aging population continues to grow, senior living communities like Meth-Wick are committed to helping older adults live their best life by offering a variety of programs to challenge body and mind, based on the most up-to-date research. Dr. Park’s conclusion that it is possible to have a healthy aging mind is good news indeed.

New descriptor, same great community

Meth-Wick Community is trading its former description as a Continuing Care Retirement Community to embrace a new name that better describes what it truly is: Life Plan Community.

The name change is driven by a nationwide effort to make senior living communities like Meth-Wick more appealing to Baby Boomers, who will begin turning 75 within five years. Nationwide research has shown that the next generation of senior living residents has an unfavorable response to the descriptor “Continuing Care Retirement Community.” The next generation is not focused on the “care” aspect of our community but rather on their life being filled with possiblities and options.

Meth-Wick is eager to join the name change initiative because we agree that the previous name did not reflect the core of the Meth-Wick Community experience. As our President and CEO Robin Mixdorf says, “We are about life, and living life to its fullest.”

Choosing the best name

For many years, those of us in the Continuing Care Retirement Community field have been concerned that the name limited consumer interest. Specifically, many potential residents believed the use of “continuing care” and “retirement” implied that our communities were only for older, less healthy people. We agreed we needed a category name that spoke to the next generation of older adults while promoting the possibility for a healthy and rewarding life in retirement.

With this goal in mind, a task force was led by LeadingAge, our national association of not-for-profit senior living organizations and Mather LifeWays, a not-for-profit organization with two senior living communities. They were assisted by leading marketing and research firms. Hundreds of ideas for a new name were submitted from around the country and the top names were tested for consumer understanding and acceptance. More than 4,100 people nationwide responded to the surveys and more than 250 people participated in the 34 focus groups around the country.

Just to clarify

While Meth-Wick’s title has changed to Life Plan Community, it remains a “fee for service community” as opposed to a Life Care Community, which has a very different financial structure. As we begin to use the term Life Plan Community, we will probably be asked this question on occasion. But we want to reassure everyone that we are simply renaming our adult housing for older adults to reflect the fact that people who move to communities like Meth-Wick tend to be planners.

Why the excitement?

We are excited to welcome this name change because we believe Meth-Wick Community is an ideal option for older adults. As a Life Plan Community we allow “planning” and “living” to merge. Having a plan in place—the availablity of healthcare, coupled with the freedom from the day-to-day tasks of homeownership–-allows our residents to live life to the fullest.

Meth-Wick Community is now a Life Plan Community.