A more age-friendly workplace?

Falls are the leading cause of hospitalization due to injury for Canadians 65 and older — with one out of three expected to experience this life altering moment this year alone.

With more people delaying retirement — sometimes working into their 70s and later — researchers have been working on innovations to help prevent these injuries from costing taxpayers a reported 3$ billion each year.

Things like offices with flexi-floors, mobile medication alerts and injectable heart monitors could eventually allow our job sites to offer a standard of safety at the same level as a care facility.

And within five years, workers should be able to wear biometric sensors no bigger than a band aid, that will allow doctors to work remotely to monitor a patient’s health.

Fabio Feldman, a Canadian injury-prevention researcher, told Post Media that “this is the kind of thing that will allow people to work into their 70s and 80.”

Another invention called Smart Canes, will allow real-time feedback on proper gait and alert a worker’s colleagues by text if a fall occurs.

When those falls do occur, special new “bouncy floors” could reduce the risk of serious injury.

“It’s a floor that’s compliant enough to prevent injury in case of a fall, but hard enough that you can do normal activities on it,” noted Feldman.

Initial tests show that it could reduce hip fractures up to 80 per cent.

Older workers will also have the option of wearing a belt with built-in air bags that will deploy when the sensor detects a fall. Those with balance problems could wear them as part of their regular office wear.

It’s all part of a vision of a future where employees and employers both take on more responsibility for the well being of the worker.

Gloria Gutman, director emerita of the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre, told Post Media, “If you’ve got people living longer, and they’re reasonably healthy, they need to be able to work. You could think of gerontechnology as the idea of, ‘what can we (make) that will allow people to do that for as long as possible?”

A study done by Wells Fargo showed that a quarter of middle class workers today feel they will need to work until they are at least 80-years-old, in order to enjoy a comfortable retirement, with 75 per cent expecting to work during retirement.

This means employers will need to carefully consider everything, from office design to health monitoring, in order to ensure the health of workers.

Dr. Atul Verma, a cardiologist at Southlake Regional Health Centre, is developing an injectable heart monitor that would track everything from blood flow to erratic rythm problems. “Within five or 10 years, we’ll see all these technologies very much in mainstream use. I wouldn’t necessarily say workplaces or homes will become makeshift doctor’s offices, but there’s no doubt improvements to technology will empower people to take greater responsibility for their health,” he said.

Rob Goudswaard, senior director of global innovation programs for Philips Home Monitoring, told Post Media about the importance of telehealth initiatives in the workplace. “At (a certain) age, what really becomes relevant is managing illness, and not having to interrupt your work in order to go to the doctor. As algorithms get smarter, we’re more and more able to guide people as to when to see a professional and when not to.”

It’s also important to note that the behavior of older workers today aren’t necessary indicative of future seniors. With each generation, our perception of the Golden Years changes. As healthcare and technology improve, we’re seeing more older adults who are incredibly healthy and vibrant. What was previously considered ‘old age’ is no longer the case.

Sources: Ottawa Citizen, Hip Health