Topping the Independent Baby-boomer Wish List is the desire to stay put, instead of shuffling off to the digs of long-term care—and digital health is helping make it happen.
By 2030, the U.S. will have 71 million of them—and these over-65ers will tackle the healthcare challenges hitched to Aging’s wagon by demanding new ways to deal with them.
Topping the Independent Baby-boomer Wish List will be the desire to stay put, instead of shuffling off to the digs of long-term care.
And since a recent Pew Research study shows that 60-65 year-olds have Internet and broadband adoption rates equal to the younger population, digital health is jumping into the aging-in-place fray with a vengeance—which is why Silicon Valley and the Long-Term Care Industry are about to rub elbows at the upcoming Aging2.0’s Global Innovation Summit.
According to Katy Fike PhD, Aging2.0’s cofounder, “Given the world’s rapidly changing demographics, the aging space is increasingly recognized as the next big investment opportunity.”
With the explosion of technology around the aging-in-place trend, it’s difficult to keep up with the cornucopia of emerging gadgets and services. Instead, I decided to take a look at some of the typical needs that seniors face as they age, and provide a few examples of companies that are stepping up to the plate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.
While a tumble for a younger person may mean a few scrapes and bruises, for a senior it may be the initial event which leads to a cascade of complications that makes care much more complex, and sometimes leads to death.
Though the basics of fall prevention—like safeguarding the environment and using assistive devices— will always be staples, technology offers some additional perks. One such solution is that provided by Care Technology Systems.
While fall detection devices are important, Care Technology’s Support Score™ takes the process one step backward, to the arena of most effectiveness: fall prevention. Through the use of its monitoring technology and data analytics, Support Score™ helps to comprehensively capture the need for care and whether it’s decreasing or increasing.
The ability to notify others when a fall occurs is certainly important, but the ability to prevent a fall in the first place trumps after-the-fact interventions.
Seniors often need solutions that will help them get around more easily. Arthritis, joint replacements, previous injuries, obesity, pain, disease complications…they all contribute to the increased effort that many seniors face when trying to accomplish even simple tasks around the house.
With an aerospace design, Isowalk provides state-of-the art usability and ergonomic advantages through self-propulsion and maneuverability with minimal effort. An adaptive shock relief system is individualized to each user, with amplified cognitive feedback that helps prevent falls.
With the integration of comprehensive motion tracking and algorithmic interpretation of gait pattern, cadence, speed, distance and tracking through UCLA Wireless Health Institute’s gait analysis system, data can be transmitted through a variety of devices to provide monitoring of user status—which will enhance the ability to intervene proactively and objectively measure outcomes for those recovering from injury.
3. Chronic Disease Management
Most chronic diseases are best managed through daily attention to detail. This could be as simple as weighing daily for the patient with heart disease who needs to monitor fluid status, or regular blood sugar testing for the diabetic.
Patients have been managing these things at home for many years without the help of advanced technology. But any need for further assessment and intervention has typically included gathering oneself up and heading to the doctor, no matter how difficult that process might be.
Now though, digital health is introducing a plethora of applications to deal with a plethora of chronic disease issues. Instead of trying to zero in on specifics, I’d like to focus on the greater need, which is for patient engagement and consistent use, as well as a buy-in from the healthcare provider on the other end—a need for “connectedness”, as John Nosta points out in a recent article for Forbes.
Companies who are able to find this sweet spot of connectedness will enjoy great success in this huge digital health sector. Telehealth is a big and rapidly expanding player in this field, and will most likely evolve and outlast the pace of individual devices to meet the needs for comprehensive care in chronic disease management.
4. Medication Management
Polypharmacy and medication management are huge issues for the senior population. Any caregiver can tell you how overwhelming it can be to help a senior tame that overflowing shoebox of pill bottles, let alone the senior who faces managing it alone.
There are many medication management devices on the market that help with reminders, etc., but a unique model for comprehensive medication management is offered by HomeMeds, through the Partners in Care Foundation.
Using digital health technologies, HomeMeds creates connections between homecare and other community-based services with healthcare providers to address the major gaps in care that seniors at home face. Care managers use software and a consulting pharmacist to screen clients’ medications for potential problems and communicate with physicians about identified needs.
And if you had to take all of those medications, you wouldn’t want to eat, either. Proper nutrition is a major challenge for many seniors, and a delicate dance in the context of chronic disease.
Not too much salt for the patient with heart disease. Not too many carbs for the patient with diabetes. The right balance of electrolytes for the patient with kidney disease. The list of unique needs can be endless.
There are many diet and nutrition apps on the market, but they’re not always linked to the special needs of seniors. Technology offers some great opportunities in this area, as David Lindeman, PhD, of the Center for Technology and Aging, pointed out in his talk, “Leveraging Technology to Improve Senior Nutrition.”
In it, he notes that since the largest growth in social media use is among those 65+, and there is a rapid rise of nutrition and health technology apps available, there will be increased usage of digital health technologies to meet the nutritional needs of seniors in their homes.
6. Cognition Support
As the aging population grows, so will the number of individuals with impaired cognition—a factor that can be as distressing as advanced Alzheimer’s disease, and as minor as the occasional episode of forgetfulness.
While there are many seniors with dementia too severe to make aging-in-place alone safe, there are those with lesser degrees of cognitive impairment who are able to function fairly well, with the right types of support—like the one offered by Brainaid.
Affectionately known as PEAT™ (Planning and Execution Assistant and Trainer), Brainaid’s cognitive support aid is an Android application that provides flexible and individualized cueing and scheduling assistance for individuals with memory, attention and cognitive disorders—with additional functionalities for those with hearing impairments.
Developed by Richard Levinson, a robotics researcher for NASA, PEAT™ is touted as the most powerful cueing and scheduling app currently available.
As in other sectors of digital health, companies who recognize that traditional solutions will never meet the needs of the future are capitalizing on the desires of tech-friendly seniors who have a streak of independence. With the growing array of options available to help the graying population take charge of their own healthcare, we’ll continue to see the rapid expansion of digital health within the aging-in-place industry—helping those who’ve made a home, stay in it.
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