Americans, specifically boomers, are getting older and this shines an increasingly brighter spotlight on, you guessed it, senior care.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2014 that seniors — which are defined as anyone 65 and older — will account for a fifth of all Americans by the year 2030. Seniors currently make up about 14% of the population. To put it plainly, that 6 percentage-point jump translates to nearly 30 million more seniors than live in America today.
This population growth will put new demands on the healthcare industry, and the seniors themselves will have needs unique to their generation. They will expect to maintain greater independence, most will already be familiar with mobile technology, and many will not have children on whom they can depend for support.
Technology of the future, specifically telehealth and mobile health technology, will have to shoulder a great deal of that demand. Really though, what will senior home healthcare look like over the next 15 years?
Living at Home, Not in a Home
Most seniors want to remain independent; that's true of every generation. America's Baby Boomers, who will comprise a growing proportion of the senior population between now and 2030, will have access to tools and tech that will make this independence possible, for perhaps a fraction of the cost.
Some challenges remain, of course. "On the one hand, most seniors prefer to stay in their current homes and communities as long as possible," Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., head of the University of California, San Diego's Stein Institute for Research on Aging, and Center for Healthy Aging, said in Senior Housing News.
"On the other hand, about half of the people over age 50 say that their homes would not be able to accommodate them as they age. Thus, many existing homes will require modifications or specialized devices to help with the seniors' hearing, vision, or mobility problems. Retrofitting of existing houses will become increasingly common."
That's exactly what Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing is targeting with its CAPABLE program. For $4,000, CAPABLE team members will make a senior's home more user-friendly by installing ramps, installing grab bars, adjusting the heights of things such as toilet seats and the placement of a microwave, allowing older adults to "age in place."
Demand for Telehealth and Mobile Health Technology
The next step after retrofits create an infrastructure to accommodate an older adult's health and medical needs. This is an area where familiarity with consumer-grade mobile technology will be a big plus.
Bruce Chernof, M.D., CEO of The SCAN Foundation — an independent public charity that promotes high-quality services for seniors — discusses what he calls "Home Health 2.0" at Home Health Care News, and Chernof draws comparisons to existing on-demand, mobile-native services.
"There's a much broader way to imagine the home health provider as the glue to drive better outcomes, lower costs," he says. "What does the next evolution of that model look like? What is theirthere connectivity to an Uber of the world? What is their connectivity to a technology like wearable devices? Or a grocery delivery service like Peapod?"
That familiarity with existing tech like Uber — which can supplement senior mobility and grocery delivery services like Peapod makes demand for home telehealth options a logical next step for many seniors.
A recent survey by Accenture found that two-thirds of seniors already want telehealth technology access in their homes. "Just as seniors are turning to digital tools for banking, shopping, entertainment and communications, they also expect to handle certain aspects of their healthcare services online," Kaveh Safavi M.D., the global managing director of Accenture's health business, says.
Well-known tech investors are aware of this demand. That much was made evident when Honor, a startup that uses an Uber-like app to connect seniors with on-demand home healthcare providers, raised $20 million in the spring of 2015, according to SiliconANGLE.
Activity Tracking and Monitoring
Key to telehealth's success for in-home seniors will be the ability of doctors, nurses and loved ones to monitor, or at least check in on, senior patients.
One organization has created a passive monitoring system that allows for this kind of monitoring without being intrusive. Keystone Technologies' six-sensor system can be installed in a senior's home to passively monitor movement, bed activity and even whether a patient bumps awkwardly into a piece of furniture. There are no wearable sensors necessary to make this work. In fact, the system's monitors can even detect when a patient's gait has changed, and artificial intelligence can learn whether this is cause for alarm.
"This resident went from low risk to high risk for a fall," Keystone Technologies CEO Andy Belval told Senior Housing News of one of their user. That information can then be relayed to that senior's home healthcare provider, he says. "The provider can then go back to the resident and find out about the knee."
Keystone's system is currently being marketed to senior living facilities, but given the demand for in-home tech solutions, we can expect to see consumer versions of this technology sooner rather than later.
The same can be said for the On4Today system, developed by Panasonic. On4Today leverages mobile devices to create an interface between seniors and either their healthcare providers or their loved ones.
Healthcare providers use this system to put together customized schedule to keep patients active, remind them of appointments or medications, and to keep them eating at optimal times. Loved ones can use the same system for video calls, which can be handier than having to open another product like Skype or FaceTime.
A consumer or patient facing alternative of the above is indeed, already in market. One such alternative is icLovedOnes, created by high school student Brooke Martin. icLovedOnes is a control unit and tablet stand where families or providers can connect a compatible mobile device for face-to-face chats. The stand can also be pre-loaded with medication and nutritional items to help patients adhere to their schedules.
In addition to passive monitoring and video connections, wearable technology is likely to have a place in senior home healthcare. Activity trackers are useful in helping seniors — and anyone else — stay active, but applications for wearables go even further.
GPS SmartSoles, for example, has created shoe inserts that allow loved ones to remotely track someone's location in real time. Technology such as this could be useful for senior couples when one person suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and might be at risk of getting lost while away from home. When a wearer travels too far outside of a geo-fence, the SmartSoles send an alert or text message to a designated loved one or healthcare provider.
The New Canaan Telehealth Program
One community in Connecticut has taken a municipal-level approach to senior home healthcare. New Canaan, a town in Fairfield County where seniors make up a quarter of the population, launched a pilot telehealth program in 2012 to help residents take control of their own health.
Initially, 10 seniors were given tablets so they could connect with a nurse two to three times per week. Additionally, they were given self-monitoring tools to track their own vitals and report those during their teleconferences with the nurse.
Later, the program expanded to include 100 seniors, who also received a FitBit wearable health tracker to measure the number of steps they took each day. Jim Lisher, chairman of the town's Health & Human Services Commission, told the New Canaan Advertiser that the introduction of fitness tracking was immediately successful — two of those 100 participants logged 50-plus miles in the first week.
"We can drive down the cost of health care; we know right now that the numbers regarding the cost of health care and of seniors needing that care are only going to go up," Lisher told the local newspaper. "I think the answer is not to wait for Washington or Hartford to come to the rescue."
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Tags: Dev, Health Innovation, Healthcare consumerism