Why the future of elderly care means integrating connected technology
Caretakers and medical professionals for elderly patients are facing a growing dilemma. The demographics of the world population are shifting and the number of people over the age of 65 is growing from 129 million to 750 million from 1965 to today. Considering that a larger aging population means higher rates of chronic disease and overall health checkups, private and public players have already started to explore how to address this shift.
How do we meet the rising need for healthcare while helping elderly adults age better? In this article, we’ll uncover how connected technology will bridge this gap by providing older adults with more autonomy, caregivers with accurate health information, and doctors with a tool to deliver personalized remote care.
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Aging well: how can technology help older adults?
Adults currently over 60 years old are aging in a way that’s radically different from previous generations. “Today’s retirees start businesses, run marathons and travel widely. With increased longevity and substantial wealth, they put a premium on health, wellness and nutrition”, observed Rina Raphael in The Global Wellness Summit Trends Report (2020).
Not only have perceptions changed – long gone are the judgmental and over-simplified “I've fallen, and I can't get up!” commercials of the late 1980s – but the culture itself is evolving to be more respectful and inclusive for seniors:
- As more people are living longer, aging has become a joy and a privilege. From useful tips about how to age well to the rebranding of “anti-age” cosmetic products, designers, content creators, and brands are redefining what it means to get older.
- Wellness is everywhere. Over the last three years, individual well-being has become a priority, emphasizing the idea that smart choices – foods and exercise, but also social connections and life goals – have an impact on how our body ages.
- More tech-savvy than ever, seniors are getting used to connected technologies. Not only has the percentage of seniors that own a smartphone increased from 13% to 61% in recent years, their screen time is almost the same as for millennials.
There is therefore no surprise that more and more people want to keep their autonomy and age at home. How can we create products that will be appealing and useful to people of all ages, including those with different cognitive or physical abilities?
The tech industry is creating a wide range of products to address adult health concerns in a user-centric and accessible way:
- Home diagnostic kits for easy health monitoring at home
- Life assistants to facilitate daily routines (smart speakers, dispensers, plugs, or robot cleaners), such as ElliQ, a voice-operated companion that helps set reminders for medications or book Uber rides.
- Virtual reality games to improve seniors’ cognitive function
- Social platforms to tackle loneliness, such as Gennev, a telemedicine start-up that gathers an online community for women going through menopause.
Connected technology and AI machine learning integrated into these products empower people to take care of themselves, providing personalized recommendations on how they can maintain or improve their daily health.
Providing better, more accurate support for caregivers
Even though aging at home is actually less labor-intensive than providing care at senior residential facilities, OECD member countries estimate a need for about 13.5 million new care workers by 2040 to maintain the current ratio of caregivers to older people. With the current demographic change, new solutions are needed to continue at the same level and quality of care.
For caregivers, technology helps them focus on what matters most: taking care of and communicating with their patients. Real-time data collection, synchronization with connected devices, and centralization allow caregivers to better monitor patient health parameters on a regular basis, optimize their logistics time management, and keep better track of health information.
In addition to the software solutions used to track health records and coordinate appointments, new products aim to easily collect and track health data:
- Health monitoring devices integrated into health information systems, such as BBalance, a smart bath mat that collects data about weight, posture, and balance, and sends notifications if there is a drastic change.
- Remote surveillance and monitoring tools (smart buttons, cameras, sensors) to detect emergencies and provide immediate help.
- Adherence to medication tools (apps, sensors, smart pill bottles, and dispensers) to remind the patient to take prescription medications and dispense pills.
Integrating this technology into digital tools and connected objects allows caregivers to access real-time health information about their patients. As a result, the caregiver’s time is optimized, their workload is efficient and safe, and patients feel more independent. Beyond optimizing caregivers' work, a problem that remains to be solved is the higher-than-average rates of psychological distress they experience due to their work.
Uncovering the impact of remote patient monitoring for physicians
As the population continues to age, the demand for physicians will rise steadily in the coming years. A recent study from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicates that by 2034, the United States is projected to face a shortage of between 37,800 to 124,000 physicians. That's why it's important to shift the model from curative to preventive, with a focus on creating and monitoring good habits over the long term. This would remove the significant burden on physicians in hospitals, particularly those that treat severe diseases that require attention and advanced medical equipment.
Whether it is preventive guidelines or treatment, once it’s prescribed, doctors don’t have regular insights to know if a patient is following instructions, how they are responding, or if the instructions led to any health changes. However, they often cannot access this information until the patient returns to the clinic or hospital for another check-up.
There are several existing products that bridge the communication gap between patients and doctors outside of medical facilities:
- Teleconsultation platforms to help doctors collect basic patient information in advance, so they can spend quality time more efficiently during appointments.
- Health monitoring devices to make effective and personalized decisions for patients with a long-term health vision thanks to real-time data collection.
- Adherence to medication tools (apps, sensors, smart pill bottles, and dispensers) to provide personalized reminders for patients, give doctors specific data about the treatment history, and make informed decisions.
Similarly, technology that increases communication between doctors and patients is particularly useful for older patients. As a result, doctors can more accurately monitor the effectiveness of each treatment.
Challenges of elderly care
While the technology exists to bring these tools to life for seniors, caregivers, and physicians, companies must build these solutions, keeping in mind the existing challenges:
- Interoperability. Although there are more and more connected tools, one of the main challenges remains the decentralization of information between caregivers, clinicians, specialists, and nonmedical home-care providers. New technologies need to be created according to interoperability standards to break down silos and provide a complete and holistic view of a person’s health.
- Data privacy. The other challenge is making sure that data is properly handled so it can be transferred to healthcare professionals without security issues. This is why solutions must be developed with data privacy as an integral part of the design. Laws such as GDPR regulations in the EU make this easier to implement across technologies by providing clear guidelines.
- Inclusive design. According to the latest AARP findings, 68% of 50+ do not believe that today’s technology is designed with their age in mind. To change this, it would require a participatory approach to product development, as well as working with age-diverse teams, and using age-diverse data collection.
Emerging technology is not going to replace our doctors and caregivers, but rather, help them perform their duties more efficiently and provide more personalized care. The benefits are clear, so we must work to integrate connected technology into senior care fields and businesses. With this goal in mind, the next challenge is how tech companies and public institutions can co-create connected tools with the impacted stakeholders at each step of the product development process to ensure each output is accessible and impactful.