Emerging technologies — including those powering the rise of telehealth — have a big role to play in how our country takes care of its aging citizens. The Baby Boomer generation will account for the largest group of senior citizens America has ever seen.
The fast and effective treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer's and dementia is becoming increasingly important, with healthcare professionals and investors pouring time, energy, and money into the field.
Although individual technologies and apps have a big part to play in managing these chronic conditions, it's important to understand the background and need for this technology.
Understanding how dementia affects people, and the differences technology can make, is vital to creating the tools that can improve the quality of life for both dementia patients and their caregivers.
Dealing with the Demands of an Aging Population
Telehealth is already changing how healthcare can improve the lives of mental health patients in America. Through rapid innovation, new technologies aimed at dementia patients and caregivers will give them freedom, convenience, and reassurance that was previously unavailable.
That's particularly important because, home-based care might be the only option for millions of dementia patients. InTouch Health points out: "The Alzheimer's Association estimates that there will be more than seven million Medicare-age dementia patients by 2025. Meanwhile, there are only about 1.6 million nursing home beds in the US, and Baby Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day."
It's clear that our current healthcare system isn't setup to handle our increasing, aging population.
As the average lifespan in the world's population continues to increase, the number of people diagnosed with dementia increases as well. According to an article on Dove Press, this means:
- increased pressure on the healthcare system, due to the costs of looking after an aging population;
- fewer family members being available to care for relatives with dementia;
- stress on individual caregivers as they deal with the emotional burden of seeing their loved one's state of mind deteriorate;
- a reduction in awareness and self-care from the patient means caregivers need to take on more difficult roles and responsibilities.
The authors of the article see telehealth and smart technologies reducing this burden by providing:
- wayfinding, tracking, and navigation technology to help patients remain independent;
- monitoring systems so caregivers can stay alert to any changes;
- easier online access to support materials and information.
Solving some of the Real Problems Dementia Patients have
A severe shortage of US geriatric psychiatrists means many dementia patients aren't getting the quality of treatment they need. An article published in the Journal of the Alzheimer's Association sees telehealth interactive video conferencing as a partial solution for this imbalance. Researchers discussed a program pairing psychiatric telehealth with long-term care at a dementia facility. "Preliminary data suggests that this program is feasible, acceptable and sustainable, and is one avenue to increasing access to geriatric psychiatric care."
One of the main concerns about dementia patients is they will forget to take their medications correctly. NCBI PubMed reports on a study exploring medication safety in which televideo monitoring was used to track medication adherence among dementia patients. The study found a compliance rate of 81% versus 66% in the control group. Additionally, researchers found that the video-monitored patients had stable levels of compliance, while unmonitored patients' compliance fell significantly over the duration of the study.
Is Telehealth a Realistic Approach for People with Dementia?
InTouch Health says telehealth "may be the only viable solution" for effectively treating dementia. Linda Kaufman, RN, gives a glimpse of how telehealth care could work at ExecutiveInsight. In Kaufman's hypothetical, a family with a home-based caregiver would communicate regularly with a remote nurse:
- Specific families with caregivers could be assigned their own nurses, and build up a close relationship with them.
- The nurse could advise the caregiver on next steps in any treatment protocol.
- A doctor could also be brought into the conversation to review and update treatment plans as necessary.
- The nurse would also be able to provide emotional support to patients and families, and help those families "navigate the system for support in their daily struggles."
The most ideal way to treat dementia is through attendance and treatment at a dementia clinic. Unfortunately, many patients don't have that option, especially those who live in rural areas. A study published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare suggests that "telemedicine may be useful in slowing disease progression in dementia patients in rural areas."
A UCSF / California Alzheimer's Disease Center study found similar results, stating, "Telemedicine is emerging as an effective way to provide consultation and care to rural residents who may not have access to specialty services."
Whatever approach we take, it's clear things have to change. As people live longer, dementia is becoming a more significant issue. Fortunately, an increased understanding of patient and caregiver needs can help the industry develop the right technologies to meet those needs.
As more of these technologies become successful, we will start to see improvements across the healthcare space.
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Tags: Health Innovation